Chapter 15 & 16

Chapter 15 of Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down follows Lia at the point in which she has achieved a deeply vegetative state. However, she was treated by her family in ways that suggested she was not seen any differently from before she was in neural and physical decline. In fact, she was always kept immaculately dressed and very well-groomed by her parents, which often gave her the appearance of being more ‘alive’ than she was. Additionally, Lia was immensely well taken care of, as evidenced by how dedicated her mother was to brushing her hair and prechewing her food daily. Furthermore, Lia was considered special in that she was the only person in the family to receive an annual birthday party. Despite her disability, the family showed no shame and, in many ways, was very proud of their daughter. Lia’s parents, though saddened by their daughter’s deterioration, harbored no real anger at the doctors, in spite of the impression of resistance they gave off at the beginning of the biography. Rather, when they hugged, there was a sense of genuine gratefulness. I found that a strong support system is pivotal for health and while Lia was in a great state of deterioration, her family remained ever-supportive. Despite the severity of her condition, Lia looked healthier than she was due to the love she had received throughout her life.

Chapter 16 focuses on the historical context of the occupation of Hmong within Merced. While there was much discussion on the beginnings of this phenomenon, starting with Dang Moua, I found it fascinating the sort of culture that has been cultivated over the years by the Hmong people. According to Fadiman, the Hmong in Merced value family immensely and consider their Hmong neighbors to be very close. In fact, they would travel often to visit their kin and would even punch holes in their walls to better communicate with their neighbors. Furthermore, they have preserved much of their culture; the Hmong living in Merced would not need to travel far to visit a txiv neeb, clan elder, herbalist, or queej player on a short notice. Though it appears they are seemingly cold to outsiders, once one truly tries to get to know them, the Hmong are very friendly and excited to teach you about their culture. Such individuals would even go as far as to invite curious strangers to their home to further chat. This kind of community is inspiring and provides a very heartwarming contrast to the preconceived notion of being problematic and aggressive.

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