Monday, February 20, 2017

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down---A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman is a must read book for anyone who is struggling to serve people of a different culture. The book follows a Hmong family as they immigrate from Laos to the United States. The Hmong, immigrants to Laos, flee their adopted country of Laos out of necessity after helping the United States' agenda in the 1970's. The Hmong fought along side U.S. troops, and, at times, saved U.S. lives. The Hmong were left in dire straits when the U.S. made the decision to pull out of Laos. Those Hmong who were lucky enough to immigrate to the U.S. felt that they were entitled, as veterans of the conflict, to certain assistance once they arrived. They have been treated mainly as any other immigrant group even though promises had been made to them by the U.S. to gain their help back in Laos.

The Hmong have a very closed culture. This is a culture that wraps around Hmong families and communities and protects the Hmong people in body and spirit. The only way to provide the Hmong with any kind of service whether educational, medical, or another service type is to work within and along side the Hmong culture. And the Hmong culture must be treated with respect. The Hmong culture differs from western culture in significant ways. A busy social service worker who has just a second to make an assessment of a Hmong need may miss the implications that the culture has on the ability to deliver service and satisfy a very crucial need. And while the Hmong's clash with Western culture may be an extreme case, the lessons learned from the case in this book can be transferred to other cultures.

This book relays the story of a child from another culture who has grave medical needs, and the failure of the system to provide those needs. As adults surrounding this child desperately attempt to fulfill these needs, the system collapses around the child, leaving all the adults responsible in despair. The child might have been helped and the end would have been different had a respectful discussion within the boundaries of the culture taken place. Instead, well meaning professionals and loving and caring parents missed coming together and the child suffered.

Whether you teach or provide medical or social worker assistance to people of a different culture than your own, this book is a must read. The old adage of hindsight being 20/20 flowers in this book inviting all of us to learn from the mistakes of others so that no other child is caught between so many well meaning people again.