Reflection on Fadiman Chapters 1-8
There were many cultural differences between the Hmong and the American doctors. The first chapter brings to light all the Hmong traditions and representational expressions of birth. They have many spiritual rituals such as the burial of the placenta and the name giving ceremony.
In Hmong culture the placenta, symbolizing a “jacket”, is to be buried in the child’s home for the spirit to come back and wear after its passing. The American doctors incinerated Lia’s placenta, which is one the first clashes of the two cultures. I think this was a significant event that might have foreshadowed the problems that the Lees encountered. It was also interesting that the Foua, Nao Kao, and the elders made such a big deal for blessing Lia at her name giving ceremony so she would not get sick but the grounds of this book is about her ailments. The Lees viewed Lia’s seizures as quag dab peg which means “the spirit catches you and you fall down”. They considered it a soul stealing dab that was trying to take Lia’s soul, but the American doctors simply diagnosed it with epilepsy, which can be treated with medication.
The Hmong believed that everything had a spiritual root or explanation while the American doctors took more of a secular approach, which caused more discrepancies between the two. The Hmongs seemed to be very frustrated with western medicine. They were skeptical about it, which would make sense that they seemed passively obedient with the doctors’ instructions, but once they left the hospital they would just disregard anything the doctor had ordered. Besides the frustrations that the Hmong felt, the cultural and language barrier lead to even more stress and friction between the two parties.
It was somewhat an enlightening experience when Fadiman was introduced to the Lee home. Although it seems as though the doctors were shining a negative light on the Hmong and how “difficult” they were, chapter 8 showed me that they are...