The name "America"
is often used to refer to the United States, but until the political
formation of the United States after the Revolutionary War, this
designation referred to South America only. Contemporary use of the term
to refer to the United States underlines that country's political and
economic dominance in the western hemisphere. Such use of this
designation is impolitic from the perspective of Canadians and Latin
The United States
has an Anglo majority that is politically and economically dominant. One
of the defining characteristics of the country as a nation is its legacy
of slavery and the persistence of economic and social inequalities based
U.S. culture has
significant regional inflections. Most Americans are aware of these
differences despite the fact that these regions have experienced
economic transformations and that Americans are a mobile people who
often leave their regions of origin.
The Northeast is
densely populated. Its extensive corridors of urbanization have been
called the national "megalopolis." Once a leader in technology and
industry, the Northeast has been overtaken in those areas by
California's Silicon Valley.
The Midwest is both
rural and industrial. It is the home of the family farm and is the "corn
belt" and "breadbasket" of the nation. In the Great Lakes area of the
upper Midwest, the automobile and steel industries were central to
community and economy. As those industries declined, the upper Midwest
became known as the rust belt.
The South was
shaped by its secession from the Union before the Civil War and is
associated with slavery and with subsequent battles over civil rights
for African-Americans. In contemporary terms, these are the sunshine
states, retirement havens, and new economic frontiers.
The West, the last
national frontier, is associated with national dreams and myths of
unlimited opportunity and individualism. It has the nation's most open
with the southwestern states were ceded to the United States by Mexico
in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. The Southwest is distinctive
because of its historical ties to colonial Spain, its Native American
populations, and its regional cuisine, which has been influenced by
Native American and Spanish cultures.