Spelling the name of Colombia, the South American nation, as Columbia with a “u” is a common mistake, but also a common pet peeve that irks Colombian-Americans in this country and Colombians who leave their country to travel the world.
The confusion is understandable. After all, there’s prestigious Columbia University, Hollywood’s Columbia Pictures and Columbia sportswear. Not to mention American cities like Columbia, South Carolina or the full name of our nation’s capital, Washington, District of Columbia. But when it comes to the spelling of the Andean nation in English, it’s Colombia with two o’s like in Spanish, as both Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries confirm.
“We saw this common error and realized it was a platform to start updating the world’s vision of what is happening in our country,” says Emilio Pombo, one of four founders of the “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia” social media campaign. “We currently have great things happening. Colombia is becoming a destination and getting on the world stage. We want to spotlight that and it all starts with people spelling our country’s name right.”
To update Colombia’s image abroad, Pombo along with Compass Porter Novelli colleague Rodrigo Salazar, and Tatiana González and Carlos Pardo, two other young Bogotá-based professionals with Zemoga, a digital innovation firm, created the “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia” campaign after Social Media Week founder Toby Daniels invited the four to participate in this month’s New York Social Media Week. Daniels was in Colombia for Bogotá’s Social Media Week, where the four participated on behalf of Compass Porter Novelli and Zemoga, last September and was impressed with the Colombia he experienced and invited them to share Colombia’s complex, but promising present with a global audience, according to Pombo.
“Colombia today is attracting international investment to our infrastructure and many of our industries from the hydrocarbon sector, to mining, and tourism,” adds Pombo. “We’ve had big acts like Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and Madonna come to our country recently… something that ten, even five years ago, no one would have ever thought of.”
By all accounts, Colombia’s security has vastly improved over the last decade as a significant portion of the world’s drug trade has moved north to Mexico and thanks to support of U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, which has helped the Colombian military combat guerrilla rebels in addition to cutting drug trafficking. Peace talks are currently underway between the Colombian government and that country’s largest terrorist organization, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. But the country’s perception abroad is still stuck on the Colombia of the 1980s and 1990s: Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel, constant bombings and high levels of kidnapping.
“When we say we’re from Colombia, Hollywood images of drugs and cocaine are the first things people talk about. We don’t want to deny our past, but people should be updated about the good things happening in our country today and that starts with spelling Colombia correctly,” says Pardo. “Every Colombian who has been exposed to an international environment goes through the same situation of also correcting the country’s name.”
Since launching the social media campaign on February 8th, “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia” has reached people in more than 50 countries, received nearly 7,000 likes on Facebook and countless mentions on Twitter through the hashtag #itscolombianotcolumbia. Colombians around the world have tweeted and uploaded photos with the words “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia.” Even celebrities in Colombia have joined in on the campaign, donning “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia” t-shirts, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. González told NBC Latino she hopes Colombian celebrities that are well-known abroad like Shakira, Juanes and Sofía Vergara will join the campaign as well as American celebrities.
The social media campaign is a non-profit effort that is just getting started, but the team has already been distributing “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia” t-shirts in Bogotá and in New York City this week. Salazar told NBC Latino he hopes they can partner with a clothing line that could sell the t-shirts, with proceeds going to benefit different charitable organizations in Colombia.
To learn more about the campaign, visit www.facebook.com/itscolombianotcolumbia.