Title: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Author: Anne Fadiman
Dates Read: 12/15/17-12/29/17
!!!!!LONG POST, BE PREPARE!!!!!
Lately, I have been curious about the Hmong history and people. Even though I am a Hmong girl, I had adapted to the American ways. I also feel like I lacked a lot of knowledge about my own people, therefore, I went in search for more scholarly information to learn more.
At this time, I am also completing college essays because I will be graduating high school soon and be on my way to college next fall.
For one of my college essay, I had wrote about my cultural background and how I want to preserve it. I had a writing tutor help me edit/proofread my college admission essays. It turned out she was pretty knowledgeable about the Hmong people and had read about them. She recommended this book for me to read.
When I first heard about it, I was pretty surprised because I had not known such a book existed. She wrote the title and author down on a sticky note pad and then handed me the note. She promised that I will enjoy the book because I seem to have a great curiosity.
The book cover did not really catch my attention, but I decided to give it a try. I usually volunteer at the local library on Fridays, so I decide to look there for the book first. I was in luck because there were not one, but two copies available. After finding the book, I looked at it. I was a big bookworm, but now I barely read and the book felt pretty thick. Despite all of this, I checked it out and started to read it.
I was barely into the first 50 pages, yet I could relate so much to what was written in the book. I started to like the book more and more. I also can relate to many things.
I can’t really relate to this quote, but it hold some meaning to me.
“Every Hmong has a different version of what is commonly called “The Promise”: a written or oral contract, made by the CIA personnel in Laos, that if they fought for the Americans, the Americans would aid them if the Pathet Lao won the war. After risking their lives to rescue downed American pilots, seeing their villages flattened by incidental American bombs, and being forced to flee their country because they had supported the “American War,” the Hmong expected a hero’s welcome here. According to many of them, the first betrayal came when the American airlifts rescued only the officers from Long Tieng, leaving nearly everyone else behind. The second betrayal came in the Thai camps, when the Hmong who wanted to come to the United States were not all automatically admitted. The third betrayal came when they arrived here and found they were ineligible for veteran’s benefits. The fourth betrayal came when Americans condemned them for what the Hmong call “eating welfare.” The fifth betrayal came when the Americans announced that the welfare would stop (Fadiman 201)”
This quote really hit me in the chest. I have never thought and think to about this. I had always viewed/ saw that me and my family getting to be in America was a blessing. A big, big blessing! However, I had failed to recognize about what the earlier Hmong, and even my my own grandparent’s thoughts of America.
I usually volunteer at the local hospital on Tuesdays, and there, I have came to know a Hmong janitor, Mr. Chue. I am an introverted person therefore, I did not try to chat too much with him. But after reading the book, I got even more curious. My English teacher, who had also read my college admission essays, encouraged me to talk to Hmong elders and listen to their stories. Therefore, I tried to talk to Mr.Chue one of the nights I volunteered. He agreed to tell me more about the Hmong, mostly about after the Vietnam War when the Hmong had to flee Laos and go to Thailand for refuge.
Mr.Chue told me of these betrayals and in his voice/face, there seemed to be anger and a bit of hatred. He also felt that the USA, specially the CIA, betrayed our Hmong people after the war. They left the Hmong people to suffer tremendously, having to fend off the Pathet Lao by ourselves. Many nasty things happened to the Hmong people, murder and rape by the Pathet Lao. Many people were persecuted, therefore, they had to hide in the jungle and sneak off to Thailand without getting caught. Even today, in the first twenty century, many are still in hiding. He also told me that our well-respected leader General Vang Pao, was incarcerated for trying to send weapons to help (another betrayal of the Americans, the very people he had helped (according to Mr. Chue)). General Vang Pao died after getting released from the charges. (More info can be found: Arrest of General Vang Pao This goes way back in 2007, when I was about 7. I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I was too young!). Mr. Chue believed that war and separation of the Hmong could have been avoided. He also believed that we, the Hmong, we foolish to have joined and helped the Americans with the war.
He also talked about the refugee camps in Thailand. He said that they were “horrible” as well. The Thais there were especially cruel to them and treated them no better than dogs out on the street. (Only some, not all Thais!) They did almost the same as the Pathet Lao, they beat up, steal, and rape the Hmong. They guard them, not allowing the Hmong to wander out of the camps. If any Hmong wander out, they will get beat up or if it’s a woman, she will get rape. (My dad have a story about this. He and my uncles had wander out of the camp one time to go explore. They were caught and were drove up to Burma, where they had been disposed like garbage. They had to find their own way back home.)
After hearing all these information, I could not explain what I feel anymore. Yes, I feel a lot of confusion/frustration, but also I see another side of the story that I had not realize about. It opened my eyes up a bit more, that’s for sure.
Another quote that held meanings for me.
“Of himself [Major Wang Sang Khang] and his fellow leaders, he said, “We have become children in this country.”
And in this country the real children have assumed some of the power
that used to belong to their elders. The status conferred by speaking
English and understanding American conventions is a phenomenon
familiar to most immigrant groups, but the Hmong, whose identity has
always hinged on tradition, have taken it particularly hard (Fadiman 206)”
I totally agree with this quote. A lot of Hmong children who are growing up in America today, and adapting to the American ways. They don’t listen to their own parents and care about old customs. I have to agree that this is me in a way. No, I haven’t forgotten about the old customs, but I don’t know them very well. The ones I do know, I try my best to respect it. I understand how hard it is to keep my Hmong roots and adapt to the American ways. However, I believe that their is a balance if I keep this up.
I attended the Fresno International Hmong New Year celebration yesterday and was sad to see that not many Hmong people are wearing Hmong traditional clothes anymore. It kind of broke my heart to see them wearing Thai and casual clothing. Even more when dancers danced to Thai songs instead of Hmong songs. I wanted to scream “NO, WE’RE NOT THAI! WE ARE HMONG! Wear Hmong clothes! This is a Hmong New Year!” at everyone who wasn’t wearing Hmong clothes. (Despite my love for the Thai culture, I love and put my own culture first and foremost!) And yes, I was wearing Hmong clothes along with my sisters.
Anyways, back to the book.
You can find summary and read other reviews here at good reads: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Overall, I enjoyed the book and who Ms. Fadiman gave us perspectives from both sides, the Hmong people and American doctors. There are so much to say, but the main point is: I can relate a lot to this, despite this being the 21st century. The book was published a while ago. If you have the chance, please do read it. It’s a wonderful book!
My last message: To any Hmong people who read my post, please try to preserve our culture. Yes, explore and love other cultures, but don’t forget that we are HMONG! I watch other Asian dramas (No, our Hmong movies don’t measure up to these, but don’t forget them!) , and am even a translator for Thai Lakorns, but I have not forgotten my roots. The same goes for all of you!
LOL, And last of all, I apologize for any errors, be it grammar or other. 😛 I wrote accordingly to my feelings and let all the other things go. I hope that those of you who read this had enjoyed it! 🙂
Pictures and information belongs to original owners! I do not own anything, except my own writing!
And yes, English Subs will be posted later on! This post is very important to me, therefore, please do not be rude and ask for an update.