Chapters 1 & 2

The first two chapters discuss the traditions of the Hmong culture, especially when it comes to child birth. The Hmong people have traditions that are drastically different from Western medicine, due to their location and sociopolitical status. The first chapter gives a brief summary of Foua’s experience with child birth and the way it is traditionally handled in the culture, where the mother gives birth alone in the home, is not to be looked at and is only given hot water. The second chapter goes on to explain the background of the Hmong culture, their history of fighting and their perceived image by the Chinese as inferior or “barbarians”. Despite all of this, they held on to their traditions and culture and were able to preserve their identity.

I found both of these chapters very interesting. I took Biopolitics of Medical Anthropology last semester, and we talked a lot about explanatory models and how every culture explains illness differently. I think very often in Western culture, especially in medicine, we want people to do things the same way we do- so much so that we clash with other cultures over medical knowledge and decision making. I appreciated the way Foua’s perception of the hospital was made to seem logical, because that is what made sense to her. She just signed things because that is what she was used to in Western culture, she asked to bring the placenta home, and she only drank warm liquids during her stay. It was so clear to see how their cultural norms (like postponing attachment to a newborn) were so directly influenced by biopolitical factors (the 50% infant mortality rate).

The second chapter reminded me a lot Biopolitics as well, because in anthropology is is very important to not only acknowledge socioeconomic and political factors like poverty, but to analyze the transnational forces that caused that population to be the way it is. For the Hmong, the transnational forces were fighting with the the Chinese and intense pressure to assimilate. This chapter also reminded me of the video from class. The Hmong seem similar to the Native Americans, who were “a special race midway between” black and white, just like Hmong were between white and yellow, as the novel states (pg. 14). Another similarity is that the Hmong did not assimilate to Chinese culture and were called “barbarians” and “uncultivated” (pg. 14), just like the Native Americans were considered “savages”. The most striking part to me was that the Hmong just wanted to be left alone. The author makes a fantastic point that that “may be the most difficult request any minority can make of a majority culture” (pg.14).

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