Hello, Radio Readers. I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas. Our Spring Read, Cultures in a Common Land, invites us to think about conflicts between our ways of life and the customs, habits, and traditions of others. We began our spring read with Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, a novel that plunks a 1950’s family from the American South into the middle of the African Congo. Not versed in the customs or the geography of the land, and slow to learn, each member of the Price family adapts or dies. In which character, I wonder, do we see something of ourselves? Could we expect different outcomes, a different ending, if more of the characters had, like Anatole, been willing to act like cultural guides, to teach and explain, and like Leah, interested and willing to learn?
Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures helps me appreciate that mediating the complexities of cross-cultural communications takes a lot more than good dialogue. Fadiman’s work is described as an informal cultural anthropology and it depicts cultural conflicts rooted in beliefs about health and illness. Specifically, Fadiman explores attitudes and practices of medical practitioners in California when attempting to treat the Hmong, an Asian group that believes that illness is caused by spirits and spiritual unease.
When young child Lia Lee is diagnosed as epileptic by her American physicians, they prescribe medication to control what they view as a neurological disorder. Lia’s Hmong family resist, using healing methods and rituals to appeal to spirits as is traditional to their culture. Of course, the interactions between the Lees and the physicians is further complicated by a lack of shared language. An unhappy and unsatisfying ending to Lia’s story seems inevitable. Fadiman includes rich background information on the history and culture of the Hmong to help readers appreciate the choices they make. Fadiman also portrays the extent to which health care providers, social workers, and the American legal system tried to instruct the Lees to follow medical advice.
Join us here on HPPR as Dr Phillip Periman, retired oncologist/hematologist and educator from Amarillo, leads us through Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You, a factual account, empathetically told, about conflict and healing. You can also follow us on Facebook as we continue our exploration of Cultures in a Common Land.
For HPPR’s Radio Readers, I’m Jane Holwerda, from Dodge City, Kansas.