here while the United States was at war added an interesting
dimension to my experience. I arrived in Ecuador while
the US government was preparing to invade Iraq, and Ive
been here throughout the subsequent war and the toppling
of Saddam Hussein. Witnessing these events from a foreign
country has given me a unique perspective on how Ecuadorians
view Americansand our government.
people I meet here are fond of Americans but dislike our
nations foreign policy. But like many other people
around the world, most Ecuadorians recognize that Americans
are individuals, and that we dont always agree with
our governments policies. In the case of our war
with Iraq, many Ecuadorians saw Americas military
actions as characteristically bullying: the worlds
strongest country flexing its muscles. The USs conflict
with Iraq angered many Ecuadorians because it was a war,
Ive heard them say, that didnt need to happenit
was a war of choice.
their displeasure with Americas actions in Iraq,
Ive encountered many Ecuadorians who are simultaneously
attracted to our culture: our movies and our popular music,
for example. And especially our TV shows: in two separate
classes, I asked my students to list the US cities theyre
familiar with. After exhausting the obvious metropolisesNew
York, Los Angeles, Chicagostudents in both classes
reluctantly and half-jokingly volunteered another locale:
Springfield, they said, referring to the fictional
home of Los Simpsons, as theyre known
are also quite familiar with a more serious aspect of
American society: the economic opportunities that are
available inside the US. Like in many other developing
countries, emigrantsmostly menfrequently venture
to the States from Ecuador in order to work and send money
home to their relatives. In fact, a small town nearby,
Gualaceo, has virtually no male residents over the age
of eighteen. Theyve all gone to the US and Spain.
And so some Ecuadorians, rightly so, see America for its
Ecuadorian friends occasionally ask me why I chose to
move to Ecuador and what I did before I arrived here.
Sometimes, when I answer, I think back to my time in Atlanta.
In subtle ways, attending Emory helped broaden my vision
of the world.
an English major, I learned about life; studying literaturewhat
some call life written downtaught me
about the human stories that are central the world over.
I recently taught a course on literature and creative
writing. To my great pleasure, I discovered that not only
were my high school-age students able to comprehend the
rather complex American and British short stories we read,
but their impressions of them were similar to what mine
had been when I first encountered them. The stories transcended
language: even though my students native tongue
was Spanish, it didnt matter that the texts were
written in English.
studies at Emory also showed me how information is transmitted
between people, countries, and cultures. To a certain
extent, the media and the entertainment industry define
our perspective. The way we see the world depends on our
howand from whomwe receive our written and
visual portrayal of it.
following the war, I read both Ecuadorian and American
newspapers. The papers here often described the war in
human terms: civilians were frequently shown fleeing burning
villages, for example. American newspapers, however, seemed
to focus more on military strategy; with all of their
elaborate maps and illustrations and their clinical descriptions
of bombing campaigns, it was sometimes easy to forget
that soldiers and civilians were actually dying.
I expected it would, my time here has taught me about
the people of Ecuador. An unexpected result of being here
while the US was at war, however, is that by viewing my
home countrys actions from abroad, Ive gained
a deeper understanding of the factors that affect Americans
comprehension of the worldand Ive come to
see how people in other countries form their perceptions
of the United States.
Purnells Web site is newley.com.