Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 15, 2005

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, is the story of a Hmong child with epilepsy and the problems doctors and her family had communicating with each other. Lia Lee had such severe epilepsy and her doctors could not seem to gain any understanding with her parents about medications and treatments. The book was published in 1997 and I sincerely hope things are better for the Hmong people now than they were then.

Carolinians aren't as familiar with the Hmong as Minnesotans are, so this book may not interest my local readers as much. But if you live in Minnesota you really should read this book. I gained not only a better understanding of the Hmong community but also a great deal of respect for them.

"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" is the loose translation for the Hmong word for epilepsy. Hmong believe that a person with epilepsy has had their soul frightened away from their body and a spirit called a dab is catching her. If/when the soul returns then the illness will be resolved.

Many Americans think of Hmong as "Laotians" but that is not the case. Laos is just the last place our Hmong were before being brought to the U.S. The Hmong have history in China, Siberia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They were resistant to governments who tried to assimilate them and when things got to be too much they would pick up and move on. The Hmong were brought here by the U.S. as refugees after they helped the CIA with their "secret war" on North Vietnam by serving in the Armee Clandestine in Northern Laos. They were led by Hmong leader General Vang Pao and helped cut off North Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, supplied intelligence for US bombing missions and helped rescue downed US pilots.

The book is about 50 percent Hmong/U.S. history and 50 percent the story of Lia Lee and her family's clash with the American medical system. I had a hard time putting it down. It does not sound academic at all...more like a very good story.

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