W6: It’s all new!

I feel that any knowledge of historical background is good in any situation. In the case of the Hmongs, their political history can be used as reasoning for their actions and feeling towards Western medicine. In the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, we read of a Hmong child that acquires epilepsy and how much of an effect political history of their people has on her parents and the Western world. The only form of medical treatments that was widely accepted by the Hmong people was antibiotics (Fadiman). The Hmongs highly valued their independence and fought against communism (Thompson). Many Hmong people, like Lea’s family, immigrated to the United States after the war (Thompson). This war was devastating to the Hmong people because of the number of tradgies they had. To put it into number, the Hmong lost 100,000 out of 300,000 to 400,00 people (Thompson). Because of these casualties, I understand why the Hmong have mistrust and feel very strongly about their opinions. The Hmong fought for their independence something they believed in very strongly, why would they do otherwise when dealing with Western medicine. Even though Doctor Neil did explain to Lea’s family that the medication did work, they did not believe.

Being so new to a place can make you uncomfortable. The second podcast from this week made me think how that would feel. A new scene and a new life are so sudden. I think that if refugees were more comfortable or eased into the American way, they will be more compliant and understanding of our health care. I do not think that all of the refugee’s medical ways should be thrown out the window and ignored. For example, the Hmongs believed that the placenta was sacred and buried it in places for protection and for the return of their children’s soul (Fadiman). It is understandable that many doctors thought this was crazy, but people have different ways of life. Doctor Roger Fife, who was a doctor that was liked by Hmong people, tried to accommodate some of the Hmong’s requests. For example, he gave the placenta in a plastic bag to the mothers of the children he helped bring into this world (Fadiman). I think if more doctors did things such as Doctor Fife did, more refugees would be comfortable receiving medical care from doctors. Making things feel more comfortable and trying to understand cultures different than your own can only help others and that’s why I feel that doing so will improve healthcare experiences for refugees who enter America.



Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Print.


Thompson, Scott. “The Hmong People’s Involvement in the Vietnam War.” Synonym. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.

3 thoughts on “W6: It’s all new!

  1. Lauren,
    I like the idea of comfort being related to medical treatment. I agree that the more comfortable a person is in a stressful situation, such as Lea’s epilepsy treatment, the more open they would tend to be towards unfamiliar processes. Psychologists have known for a long time that stress plays a fundamental role in our physical health (link below). The Lee family must have undergone an unfathomable amount of stress during their time transitioning to America, which already set them up for failure in the sense that they were likely irritable, scared, and possibly depressed to begin with. Then add in their daughter’s condition, and all stress and related health issues are amplified. From this we can assume that part of the Lee’s distrust/noncompliance, although obviously rooted in political history, may have also (at least partially) stemmed from the consistent fatigue and sadness they must have felt. I also agree that some action should have been taken by the doctors to understand and respect the Hmong’s own healing traditions. This even includes Dr. Fife’s decision to allow the new mothers to take home the placentas for their own spiritual rituals. Although some of the Hmong practices may not have biological proof to back it up, the simple belief in it can have very real consequences. For example if they believe very strongly that a procedure would prevent reincarnation, the refusal to respect these wishes would cause stress on the patient and that stress can lead to physical consequences.


  2. I really like what you stated in the second paragraph of your argument. “A new scene and a new life are so sudden. I think that if refugees were more comfortable or eased into the American way, they will be more compliant and understanding of our health care. ” I think that if the Hmong people were not forced and bribed into American culture that they would have had a more peaceful upbringing to what they seen as American culture. But because of the way that they were forced to see things our way made them rebel and angry, as would any person or any culture would act in those circumstances. I think this also has to do with the fact that Americans are seen as a world power and they were very threatened by us at the time which did not help them in their fight. We as Americans definitely pushed our beliefs on them because we thought we were powerful when in all reality we were bullying the other culture.

  3. Hey,
    I liked your attention to the fact that the Hmong lost ¼-1/3 of their entire population fighting. Losing anyone has a tendency to reaffirm people’s beliefs in their culture and tradition. When it is all you have of your homeland and old life, culture and traditions become the centerpiece of everything you hold dear. This is especially true for refugees, whom in many cases literally have nothing but the memories of their traditions and customs to remember their home by.
    Beyond that, I’ve always had an issue with trying to ‘increase compliance’ for refugees or other groups of people. It commits a big issue in anthropology, which is that no one culture is better or worse, merely different. But talking about compliance just assumes our way is superior to their way. If we as Americans were elsewhere, we’d not do anything involving health that was strange to us unless we were given valid, understandable reasons I agree entirely that what Doctor Fife did is closer to what we need to do when it comes to refugee healthcare. To work with them, not just to get them to understand what and why our doctors do one thing or another, but work to keep all our actions as close to fitting their traditions as we can. Understanding is the key, not compliance.

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