The Collision of Two Cultures

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The Collision of Two Cultures -
Implications of Cultural Values and Beliefs on Caring Concepts

This paper is a personal response to Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The paper includes a summary of the book, an overall impression of the reader, a discussion of three major themes evident in the book, and a description of a situation from the book and how the situation could be handled differently using references and material learned in 3020 Transcultural Nursing. Keywords: culture, cultural barriers, values and beliefs, language barrier, assimilation process

The Collision of Two Cultures –
Implications of Cultural Values and Beliefs on Caring Concepts

After I finished my second summer semester this year I had 3 weeks break before starting fall semester, where I enrolled for this class. I had acquired my books already from a fellow student and went home to enjoy my three weeks of not studying; just working. As I was putting the books away at home, I started reading the back of Anne Fadiman’s book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” where a journalist of The Washington Post referred to the book as utterly engaging, readable, and a superb piece of writing. Instead of storing the book I carried it upstairs and put it on my night table. That evening after I snuggled up in my bed I got to know Lia Lee, her parents, her doctors, and I learned about the struggles that were involved in caring for an ill child that sat between two cultures; the Hmong culture and the culture of American health care professionals.

Anne Fadiman takes the reader on a cultural journey where she describes the case of Lia Lee, a Hmong infant that suffers from epilepsy. As she tells the story of Lia and her immigrant family that had to flee from their home country and eventually gained entrance into the United States, she reveals the history and cultural traditions of the Hmong people. Moreover, she describes how her parents and the medical community of Merced Medical Center in California strive to help Lia as they try to treat and care for the epileptic child each in their own way. The values and beliefs that both sides hold seem to be irreconcilable at the time because the two sides do not know enough about each other to even try to understand that both sides mean well and try their best to help Lea in her struggles to regain her health or control the condition. Fadiman details the misunderstandings that arise when two cultures come face-to-face but cannot understand each other. Lia arrives in the hospital with epileptic seizures which her parents blamed on a slammed door, a spirit catching Lia, and subsequent soul loss. To the western doctors, who know little about the Hmong people and their culture, Lia’s seizure was caused by dysfunction in her brain which can be treated with medication. The doctors are unaware of the fact that the Lee’s diagnosed Lia with “qaug dab peg” which is the Hmong word for epilepsy, though considered potentially dangerous in Hmong culture it also distinguishes a person and may be indicative of a possible future as a shaman. The Hmong, like American Indians, are circular thinkers who see universal connections in all things. The Hmong, unlike Americans, don’t split the mind and the body. To the Cartesian, linear thinking doctors, medical health cannot be restored by bargaining with spiritual powers and offering animal sacrifices. The book also touches on historical and political events which have shaped the character traits of Hmong and Americans. For centuries the Hmong have resisted persecution, manipulation, and domination by other Asian groups. They are a proud people and cherish their independence. The Hmong’s challenge of authority frustrated the American doctors who aren’t used to having their authority questioned. The Lees non compliance with the western medical treatment was rooted in their belief that the family makes the decisions for their children which...
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