In Chapter 13 the Lee’s go against doctors’ orders and disconnect Lia from any life-sustaining treatment in order to have her returned home. Lia’s parents stated that their experiences with Lia’s health and the American medical system is the most traumatic thing they have been through, even more so than their experiences as refugees from Laos. Before being released from the hospital, Lia was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. She was no longer the happy, cheerful young girl she once was. Her mother had brought funeral garments to the hospital in order to dress Lia, disobeying the doctor’s instructions. Thinking that the medicines were killing Lia, the Lee’s had to sign paperwork in order for Lia to be released from the hospital. The paperwork was another document that they did not understand, in which no one attempted to help them. After a misunderstanding, Nao Kao tried to flee the hospital with Lia. She ended up being discharged from the hospital with 104 degree fever. The Lee’s continued to perform traditional healing techniques upon their return home.
One thing that really stood out to me in Chapter 13 was the response from the doctors. Dr. Neil Philip had waited three days upon Lia’s return before visiting her. Despite spending years with the Lee family, he could not summon the courage to face the young girl who was now brain dead. He even admitting to bailing out on the case – leaving his wife in charge of Lia’s treatment. I thought this was an example of poor medical care. Dr. Neil Philip put his personal feelings over that of a patient’s care. If it was hard for him to see Lia in such a state, just imagine how hard it was for her parents, who stayed at her bedside every night caring for her.
Chapter 14 then delves more into the Lee’s immigration from Laos to Portland, and then California. Their immigration experience was far different from that of other immigrants, such as the Europeans immigrants working for Ford automotive. The European immigrants had the opportunity to adjust, and were even given free compulsory “Americanization classes”. The difference was that the European immigrants wanted to assimilate to the American culture, while the Hmong had no interest in assimilated and were determined to hold onto their cultural practices.
The Hmong immigrants were stripped of independence. They were faced with a massive culture shock, in addition to having to learn how to use electricity, refrigeration, toilets, televisions, etc. The Hmong wanted to be geographically be together, however the U.S. distributed the refugees across the country rather than to a few specific areas. They also wanted to be self-sufficient and independent, but were faced with many barriers including a language barrier. Lacking the skills in order to gain employment and make money, most Hmong winding up on welfare.
The Hmong never wanted to have to rely on others – they wanted to be independent and left alone. Their experience of being stripped of independence made me think of when I experienced an injury, resulting in two surgeries and months of crutching around campus. In a much smaller way, I was stripped of a lot of independence when I broke my foot. I had to relay on people to do simple tasks that I had once taken for granted. For example, I could not get to class by myself, I could not carry my own food in the dining hall, I could not do my own laundry, and I couldn’t get into the shower without help. Of course my experience was temporary but it was humiliating and mentally exhausting. I cannot imagine what the Hmong went through as refugees and being put in a country where they did not want to be. Chapter 14 also discusses some of the hate crimes that took place surrounding the Hmongs. Tires were slashed, windows smashed, and even physical abuse took place. Journalists labeled the Hmongs as “the most primitive refugee group in America”. No wonder they dreamed of returning home to Laos.