W6: The Hmong: Misunderstood People

The Hmong have had a very troubled political history and background which might help explain they way they are today. Hmong people fought alongside the US during the Vietnam War against communists. In the 1970’s after the US withdrew troops from Vietnam there was a genocide of the Hmong people.This itself caused much distrust of Americans as the Hmong were promised protection but the US withdrew and left the Hmong to fend for themselves. The Hmong had no choice but to go to unsanitary refugee camps or flee the country. It was during this time many chose to emigrate to the United States. (Fadimann, 1997). These people left everything they knew and all their traditions behind in hopes they would be able to reestablish them in the US, this is sadly not the case. In The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadimann we are able to see the Lee family’s confusion with the American healthcare system and their understanding of doctors. Due to a misunderstanding with medications Lia was taken away by the CPS. (Fadimann,1997) The Lee family had clashes with their traditional practices they wanted and the medical procedures doctors wanted. I think the biggest recommendation that can be made to improve the lives of refugees is cultural assimilation by the doctors treating them. ” Some all-powerful doctor in the regional bureau said the Hmong sleep on the floor anyway so they didn’t need it.” (Fadimann, 1997). This quote from “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” just shows how racist and biased the doctor is. He didn’t try to be respectful of their cultures and traditions and just made uneducated assumptions instead. This is something doctors really need to change when working with any patients but, especially refugees. “There are many problems doctors have to cope with every time they get a Hmong patient whose religion is Shamanism. The biggest problem of the cultural differences is the fact that Hmong religion requires animal sacrifices, especially when it comes to the attempt of trying to retrieve a lost or trapped soul, and fixing damaged souls. Killing animals within hospitals are illegal but for the sake of treating Hmong patients, hospitals must make an exception to this religious conflict.” (Hillmer, 2010). This is an example of cultural assimilation that hospitals have adopted to in order to respect the traditions of the Hmong. Overall, the best way for doctors to overcome any differences in culture is to educate themselves on traditions and adopt an unbiased approach.
Hillmer, Paul. A People’s History of the Hmong. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press,

2010.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.

One thought on “W6: The Hmong: Misunderstood People

  1. Roopa,

    I was very intrigued by your post because it focused on the clash between patient and doctor. I didn’t know that, as an exception for the Hmong people, hospitals had to allow animal sacrifices within hospitals. Animal sacrifice, though done within the Hmong cultural to which animal sacrifice is rooted deep in their personal health traditions, was the only part of the book that I could not emphasize with on behalf of the Hmong. I found this to be my own ethical dilemma within an ethical dilemma because I have such strong beliefs that Animals have their own right to life. I thought you might be interested in some of the other clashes that the Hmong had in a medical setting. The language translation has been difficult to understand due to the “metaphorical” nature of the language. Speaking in metaphors is super difficult to understand in general, but also creates a lot of misunderstandings between doctors and patients. To answer questions, many Hmong people will tell a story to answer, an important story, but may not be received fully since the biomedical situation is focused on being fast. A way to combat these misunderstandings is to always use a Hmong interpreter who can spend time with the family and write down their questions/concerns/needs for doctors to better understand (Carteret, 2012).

    1. Carteret, Marcia. “Providing Healthcare to Hmong Patients and Families.” Dimensions of Culture. 2012.

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