Until my friend told me about this book “The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down”, I have never heard of the word “Hmong”. No offense intended and pardon my ignorance…but, at first, I thought “Hmong” (when it is just pronounced without looking at the spelling), is the short term for Mongoloid, a genetic chromosomal defect: Down’s Syndrome.
Out of curiosity, I was tempted to consult Mr. Google. This is a new discovery for me…and it is worth my time researching and learning about their cultural history. The Hmong are Asian ethnic group, particularly from the mountainous region of Laos, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. When they fled out of their homeland and were uprooted from their centuries-old culture, they tried to co-habit with the people living in the Western world. But until now, I still say that Hmong culture and religious belief is difficult to understand. It is hard to determine or perceive how much was caused by cultural barriers. It must have been arduous for them too, to adjust to and embrace the western culture, which is entirely different from what they know.
This particular book that I read, revolves around a Hmong patient and how medicine and medical care in the western world collide with the Hmong’s religious belief and culture.Contrary to what doctors learned in medical school, no doctor has been taught and prepared to practice cross-cultural medicine, especially in dealing with the Hmong.
As I was reading the book, I came across on some of the Hmong’s delemna…their personal opinion of doctors and other medical professionals. I could not help but think and ask myself: Is it really true and happening? Do we (including myself, being a nurse), treat people equally according to their need, and not being blinded and judgmental of who and what they are? Are we so stock-up with what we righteously think what is best for them? Do we disregard their own personal belief and feelings, that we push so hard to have them comply with the standards of medical practice?
There would still be so many unanswered questions; so many frustrations; so many anger; so many disappointments and misunderstandings, because when we attempt to reach out, we seem to stop dead on where we are, and it is a challenge to cross over the unknown barrier that distinctly identify Hmong culture from the rest of the world. I hope the younger generations who have successfully adopted the Western way of life will bridge this gap.
By nature, the Hmong are historically resistant to authority. When they feel that they are being stripped of their autonomous power, they either fight back, or retreat. Their resilience make them outwit whatever adversity that comes their way. They just want to be themselves. And, they deserve to be understood, accepted, and respected. Hmong might be different in so many ways, but they are human beings, just like you and I.
(Author’s Note: Some words or phrases included in this article was lifted from the book “The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down”.)