Chapters 1 & 2

The Hmong people cannot be conquered; they do not surrender under any circumstance and will always choose to fight, flee or die before they sacrifice their honor. The author begins at the very beginning (as is the Hmong custom of story-telling) with the origin of the Hmong and gives the readers an insight into the fundamental belief and attitude of the tribe. Now spread out across China, Thailand and Laos, the Hmong are still supposed to be proud, brave, united and yet, content with isolated patches of land, free from any governing body.

This is a stark contrast from the story of the birth of Lia, as Foua seemed almost forced to assimilate into the American culture of hospital assisted birth. Her passivity, despite having had 12 children previously, was reflected in the numerous other Hmong women and men who had given up chunks of their own culture in order to belong to the new American one. However, as a tribe experienced in being uprooted and rebuilding elsewhere, their soul-searching ceremony to welcome little Lia displays the Hmong identity that will be passed on despite the new surroundings. This is an example of the highly reproducing pre-industrial population establishing themselves in an area in stage 4 of DTM.  

What stuck out to me was, surprisingly, the different views of the doctors in response to the food brought in by the husbands of the pregnant Hmong women. Indubitably, in an individualistic culture like America’s, this gesture should seem unnaturally affectionate and yet, one of the doctors chooses to negatively comment on the smell. The apathy is apparent in the small gestures like this one and to a group of people searching for home away from home, can be a major deterrent.

In such cases, perhaps the need to maintain one’s own identity is almost desperate. The Lees holding on to their tradition of killing and preparing whole chickens indoors in front of an audience for the ceremony presented such a contrast to what the American culture (and also my own) would consider appetizing or even appropriate. This was interesting, because while this may seem almost barbaric to me, it is a tradition deep rooted in their roles as hunters, gatherers and fighters. Now, reflecting back to how Foua might have felt when the doctor went into to puncture the amniotic sac artificially or when she was lathered in liquids she didn’t know or prodded with needles; all practices that are unnatural, deviations from her many unmedicated births. Did she wonder if her child’s soul would be lost now that she could plant the placenta under her home? Did she feel scared strange men and women were working her body, or was it comforting that she was not alone? Were the doctors aware of her discomforts? Or was the language barrier enough to not do so?

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