Demonyms are words that inform us where a person comes from. Italian, French, German, Dutch are all demonyms. In Spanish there are specifically two demonyms that often lead to misunderstandings. These two demonyms are americano and indio which can be translated into English as American and Indian but which used in Spanish can have a slightly different sense. Let's explore these two words and how to use them correctly in Spanish.
1. Americano: a person from the Americas and not simply a US citizen
In English it is very common to use the demonym American as a word to describe someone from the United States. Moreover the word America itself is widely used to denote the United States of America. However, in Spanish, these words have a slightly different usage. To begin, the term América (to be translated as "the Americas" and not simply "America") is used to describe the American continent, more precisely the union of North America with South America. As such, anyone described in Spanish as americano is meant to be a person coming from any country within North and South America. A similar concept applies to europeo (European), asiático (Asian), etc.
Nevertheless, it is also true that in some cases, especially in informal situations, americano can also mean a person coming from the United States. For instance one could say "Walt Disney fue un animador americano" (English: Walt Disney was an American animator), where, taking into account that one is speaking about a person who is well known around the world, people will understand that one implies that Walt Disney was from the United States. But all in all, to avoid any confusion, it is preferable and even advised to use the demonym estadounidense to describe a person from the United States.
2. Indio: Both a person from India and the indigenous peoples of the Americas
Although the word indio is most often used to mean a member of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, it is also a demonym for someone coming from India. In some cases one can hear the word hindú (English: Hindu) being used as a form to call people from India (this is however not correct for not all people in India practice Hinduism). It is then recommended to use the word indio in Spanish as a demonym for both the indigenous peoples of North and South America and those coming from India. Finally, if one wants to absolutely make a difference between a person from India and an indigenous person of the Americas, the word amerindio, a combination of the words americano and indio, offers a more accurate way to imply a member of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
By Raul Hurtado