Sometimes empathy is all it takes

As we can see, the Hmong rituals and lifestyles are immensely different than what most Americans are used to. As we grow up, we tend to follow the traditions in which we have acquired from our family members, which becomes the “norm” for us, and that is exactly what the Hmong culture has done as well. Americans are highly reliant on modern medicine, and sometimes we, as a whole tend to be ignorant when it comes to accepting other methods of treatment such as the different ways of child birth we learned about earlier in the semester.  As we learned this week, it is extremely important to be aware of these other cultures, not only the Hmong culture, but several other cultures around the world; not all American’s value the same procedures. As we learned in readings, The Spirt Catches You and You Fall Down, the members of the Hmong culture are very reliant on their contact with the ancestors, rather than modern medicine. Not only with illnesses in need of a cure, but they are very aware of what their bodies are in need of, in the text it mentioned that during pregnancy, women are very aware of how to keep their children healthy; if they are craving a specific food, they shall not ignore this craving or else their child will be born with a deformity of some sort (Fadiman).

As we learned from the lectures, The Lee family was not exactly taken very seriously; the medical teams did not work has hard to understand the Hmong traditions as the Hmong’s tried to understand and accept the American way. I don’t exactly think it is the American doctors fault that the situation ended in the way it did, but I do think they should have taken a bit more time to research and learn the background of the patient they were dealing with. When Lia Lee was young, she was diagnosed with epilepsy, however, her family believed her problems were related to wandering spirits. Her family attempted to do all they could to help their daughter, until the child protective services came in and took her from her family. Her family was full of love, and it had to be awful to have their child taken from them, considering they were only attempting to help her the only way they knew how (Marcum 2012). I understand the reasoning behind taking Lia away from her family, but I also think we should be educated on these different cultures before we interfere.  I think both the refugees and the Americans should be educated on the opposing cultures; maybe work to find some sort of happy medium, and a balance between the two cultures, and way of handing illnesses.

According to an article I read, there was a study done in order to understand the mental health of Hmong Americans. The purpose of the study was to understand why many of these Hmong Americans tend to have anxiety, and or suffer from issues such as depression. I thought it was really interesting that they discovered that many of the Hmong Americans that showed signs of depression also had quit engaging in some sort of Hmong rituals that they had previously participated in prior to their move to the United States. There was also a correlation between poor mental health and clashing of their original cultures. Along with issues such as depression and anxiety, researchers found that those of the Hmong culture often deal with adjustment issues, family issues and substance abuse. I think this is a large red flag when we see that a majority of these Hmong Americans are suffering from these issues, and much of this can be correlated with the stress Hmong’s feel when they are forced to transform to American ways. The more diverse our country becomes, the more we should be working to educate ourselves and others to avoid forcing others to feel as if they must leave their traditions behind, in order to be accepted in the United States.

Lee, Song E. “Mental Health of Hmong Americans: A Metasynthesis of Academic Journal Article Findings.” Hmong Studies Journal 14 (2013): 1-31.

One thought on “Sometimes empathy is all it takes

  1. You touched on the fact that in the United States we grow up and what we experience in our formative years is often what we consider to be the norm. You mentioned this phenomena using bio medicine as an example, and I completely agree with that. I would also argue though that their are other cultural differences that were working against the Lee’s. Even though there is religious diversity in the country we can’t deny that the majority of the US is Christian, but even then the next two most popular religions in the US are Judaism followed closely by Islam. If you look at all three they are monotheistic and I think growing up in the United States it is easy to look at those three religions and think that because they are different if you can accept those differences then it is easy to accept all differences in religion. However the Hmong practice animism and that is so vastly different from what most people have ever experienced in the United States that it is easy to other them. We culturally (I say this tentatively because I know there are individuals who don’t subscribe to it, but I’m speaking to the larger group here) understand religions to be monotheistic and so I think many of the doctors even if they were well intentioned may have also had a hard time trying to understand animism because it is so different from what is so prevalent in our culture.

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