The American People

The United States has the third-largest pop­ulation in the world (after China and India). In 1990, population in the United States passed the 250,000,000 mark. Who are the American people?

The most distinctive characteristic of the United States is its people. As nineteenth-cen­tury poet Walt Whitman said, the United States "is not merely a nation but a nation of na­tions." People from around the world have come to the United States and influenced its history’ and culture.

The Native Americans The first people on the American continent came from Asia. They came across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska at various times when the sea level dropped. The first migra­tion might have been as early as 40,000 years ago. Once in America, these people migrated
east across North America and south through Central and South America. When Columbus arrived in the fifteenth century, there were perhaps 10 million people in North America alone. They had developed many different kinds of societies. These were the people that Columbus called "Indians," in-the mistaken belief that he had reached the East Indies.

The story of the westward growth of the United States was also the story of the destruc­tion of the Native Americans, or Indians. To­day there are about 1.5 million Indians in the United States. Western states —especially Cal­ifornia. Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mex­ico—haw the largest Indian populations. About one-third of the Native Americans live on reservations, land that was set aside for them. Most of the others live in cities. Poverty and unemployment are major problems, es­pecially on the reservations.

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