What are the most important aspects of Hmong culture?

Important Details of Hmong History and Cultural Practices

In the late 20th century, in Laos, Hmong were treated as traitors and abused by the Vietnamese forces. The Vietnamese used to kill them for petty offenses such as stealing food. Between 1976 and 1978, the Hmong people made several attempts to escape Laos, but they were either captured by or killed by the Vietnamese forces. Fortunately, in 1979 about four hundred managed to flee, whereby they walked for 26 days to Thailand.

After living in Thailand for one year in two refugee camps, they immigrated to the US. It is also worth noting that later on, others Hmong managed to escape to Thailand. Approximately 150,000 Hmong fled to Thailand. Those who remained were forced to change their names to get rid of their clan names and forbidden from practicing Hmong rituals. The majority of the Hmong who fled to Thailand later immigrated to the US.

It is also worth noting that between 1975 and 1975, Hmong who were former members of the Armee Clandestine, put up resistance against the Pathet Lao using tactics such as blocking roads, shooting soldiers, blowing up food convoys, destroying bridges, et cetera. However, in 1978 the resistance movement was defeated following the killing of 50,000 members. Nonetheless, the Hmong guerillas remained hidden in the jungles between Laos and Thailand, whereby they resisted by launching sporadic attacks.

Hmong’s cultural practices that are atypical to most Americans

Chapter 12 of the “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” highlights several cultural practices that are unorthodox to most Americans. For instance, the Hmong believe that if the deceased does not receive proper funeral rites, their souls will not find peace in the afterlife. Another atypical culture is the position of women in society. In the late 20th century, Hmong maintained that women were supposed to sew paj ntaub, raise chicken, and tend to vegetables, among other household chores.

  • What are some of the most important aspects of Hmong culture? What do the Hmong consider their most important duties and obligations? How did they affect the Hmong’s transition to the United States? 
  • What aspects of Hmong culture did you find appealing and admirable as you read the book? What aspects did you find off-putting or disturbing, and why might you have felt that way? What lessons could the Hmong teach mainstream U.S. society? (~1/2 page)
  • Towards the end of the book (pg. 259) Fadiman poses the question “Was the gulf [between the Lees and their doctors] unbridgeable?” What do you think? Reflect on the ‘eight questions’ developed by Arthur Kleinman and his comments on page 261 in regards to this question. (~1/2 page)
  • What did you learn from this book? (i.e, discuss a few aspects or issues that particularly interested, surprised, or provoked you). (~1/2 page)

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