Chapter 1&2

These beginning two chapters laid the foundation of who the Hmong people are, some of their traditions, and values that they live by.  Chapter one, Birth, talked about the Hmong people on a broad scale by looking at the Lee family.  Within the first few pages there is an overwhelming emphasis on family and tradition.  Having children is held at a high regard for women, as is using only natural processes during and after the pregnancy.  For example, satisfying a craving while pregnant is considered imperative to the health of the baby.  If a woman doesn’t eat the food she craves while pregnant it is thought that the child will be born with some sort of deformity.  There is a strong relationship between higher-power spirits and the events that occur in daily life.  If the Hmong people don’t respond appropriately to natural occurring events perceived to be spirits, there are potential future consequences that affect primarily their health.  This mentality is supported by the Hmong saying “Hais cuah txub kaum txub” discussed in chapter two.  This phrase translates to “to speak of all kinds of things” and is used when telling a story to remind the listeners that the world is full of things that may not seem connected but are.  Every event or interaction occurs because of a series of other events and interactions prior, nothing occurs in isolation.  This Hmong belief is seen in the Fish Soup chapter where a Hmong student in college ends up discussing in great detail how to make fish soup for his French assignment.  Although the oral assignment was meant to be five minutes long, he spoke for roughly 45 minutes about where the fish came from, why that fish was chosen, how and why it was caught, and many other intricate details that many would not include when talking about soup.  The remaining portion of chapter two discussion the history of the Hmong people’s battles and migrations.  The many points of adversity that the Hmong people had to survive emphasized their dedication to their culture.  Rather than assimilating and surrendering to the greater group, they would fight, flee or die.

These two chapters made me think a lot about culture and its importance in society.  In chapter two, the idea that you can move the Hmong person but can’t take the Hmong out of them was an underlying theme of the chapter.  I found this interesting and unlike many minorities who either desire to assimilate to American culture or succumb to the pressure to assimilate.  In addition, learning about the war history of the Hmong people emphasizes their dedication to their culture as they were not afraid when being attacked by much larger populations however they live their life avoiding attracting the dab evil spirit.  There is a greater importance of the meaning behind why events happen and how one responds to them rather than the physical events.  The way these first two chapter are written show a strong parallel between the Hmong culture and American culture.  Especially when Foua and Nao Kao experienced their first childbirth in a westernized hospital with modern medicine after giving birth 14 times on her own naturally.  The contrast is also seen in chapter two, despite the fact that this young Hmong man was at an American university doing an assignment for his American professor he was authentic in his Hmong culture.

Reading about the Hmong people has made me think a lot about my family’s traditions, values that I live by every day, and the culture that I am a part of.  What makes the Hmong people so dedicated to their culture and traditions?  As of now the Hmong and western culture seem polar opposites, but I am interested to see how the Americans and the Lee family interact moving forward.  Do the Lee’s and the American doctors get along?  Will there be an exchange of knowledge of each other’s cultures or will pride and a lack of acceptance leave the two lost in translation?


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One thought on “Chapter 1&2

  1. I agree with many of the points Avery makes about culture in this post. From the very beginning of the novel it is clear that culture and tradition is very important to Hmong. They have strong sense of tradition and belief in higher spirits. I would argue that they believe that Hmong culture has an underlying influence in all events that occur in their lives. One part of this post that made me think deeper was Avery’s comment about how common it is for people of different cultures to want to assimilate to American culture, but this does not seem to be the case in this story. There is a strong sense of Hmong pride and it is clear that Lia Lee’s family believes in the power of Hmong and the impact it has on their lives. Overall, yes, the Lee family is being exposed to American culture, but they prioritize their culture and tradition above American influence.

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