Upon reading the first two chapters of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, I found myself deeply fascinated with the Hmong history and beliefs. The Hmong are described as a people that has always been persecuted and never had their own land. Yet, they have continued to persist and have never given in to their oppressors. Although they had to separate into many small groups spread across various lands they have managed to preserve their traditions and beliefs. In fact, I think it is because they have clung to their culture that they survived so many catastrophes.
In the first chapter, Fadiman writes mostly about Foua, the mother in the Hmong family discussed in the novel. Fadiman’s introduction of Foua is that for most of her children’s births, she gave birth squatted over a dirt floor, which she always made sure was clean. Furthermore, Foua was proud she had never let any of her children touch the floor during childbirth (Fadiman 1). This speaks volumes about Foua as a person. Obviously, she is incredibly strong and capable. She makes sure to complete all the rituals created by the Hmong and do nothing that would harm her children. She is also adaptable while still preserving her own culture as shown by the story of Lia’s birth. She respected and followed the instructions given to her at the hospital but she still made sure to follow the rules about food after giving birth. The Hmong went so far as to grow the special herbs they needed for the food “on the edge of the parking lot behind their apartment building” (Fadiman 9). It is clear with all the traditions the Hmong have in relation to childbirth that there is a common them. That theme is the safety and health of their children.
In terms of relating these chapters to the concept of race, ethnicity, culture and health all interconnecting, I observed that the Hmong have these rules in order to ensure their children survive. It might seem strange to someone from the United States that people would keep the placenta of their children to bury it. However, to the Hmong that ensures the survival, health, and rebirth of their children. When people such as the Hmong do not have access to modern medicine and health care, they must create their own rituals and rules to ensure their family’s well being. Many of the rules, like the food and boiling water ones are not too far from diets that a doctor might recommend to a pregnant woman. In fact, there are people who eat their placentas after giving birth. It is important to ruminate on the fact that what one culture might consider strange and backwards could be methods another group has constructed in order to survive.