Book Report: Cultures Work: That What Is Considered Abnormal

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¶ … cultures work: that what is considered abnormal and almost impossible to achieve in one, is considered routine in another. For instance, the description of Foua's birthing procedure was amazing to me -- her strength and the ability that she could break off and continue with 'regular' life as before.

I especially appreciated the amount of knowledge and detail that went into description of the Lee's life. The author's apparent scholarliness and insight in their life as well as empathy is admirable.

I was confused however, by the extent to which relative ethics and beliefs can be taken. Dilemmas can sometimes be caused, as was shown in these chapters, by cultures professing their ways of life to be superior to another. There may be cases when no superiority obtains, but sometimes one model may deliver better -- or safer -- results than another. The western medical model, for instance, is premised on the long-tested scientific history of testing and disproving. Although it may be culture biased and specific, nonetheless certain principles that have been tested internationally do apply. In these instances, I wonder whether some cultures, such as the Hmong, who fall in these areas may not benefit by following these strictures?

I was impressed by the depth of attention that the Hmong accord their children with far more attention and care shown than Western parents generally do.

What I can learn from the whole is to realize that other cultures may be totally different from mine in each and every detail; that people are suffused by their cultural experiences; and that, to best understand them, I have to read up on their culture -- better still -- experience it first hand before judging.

Chap 4-5

I was struck by the huge difference in terms of Western culture and perspectives of the Hmong culture and how individuals at heart seem to want to do well and are, generally altruistic but perimeters of their different culture may trip them up. For instance, perceived as an honorable condition, the epileptic individual is obligated, by his or her culture, to use these phenomena in order to help others. In fact, many Hmong shamans are epileptics, and achieve acclaim as physical and spirit healers for the physically and emotionally sick individuals of their cultures. As a result of their belief in this process, Hmong individuals would certainly be against western medical interventions that seek to cure epilepsy in any which way or manner. The Western doctors, on the other hand also wanted to do good and saw their medicine as a way of doing so. The problem was that miscommunication and utterly converse cultures turned good into destruction.

I was upset by Neil's steps of relocating Lia. Her parents obviously cared for her. This was no abusive environment. Alternate steps could have first been taken such as providing social work service in the Hmong language to the parents and teaching them how to care for the child. They were obviously eager. Cultural impediments needed to be breached.

On the other hand, I was struck by the dedication and efforts of the overworked and underpaid physicians and nurses to help the child. There are few medical practitioners like this today who put the patient before their needs. Neil and Peggy emerge shining from these chapters, as do most of the hospital personnel in general. .

Chapters 6-7

These two chapters are a mix of both heartening and disheartening factors.

I found the Dee family to be inspirational: the fact that the woman had children of her own and yet adopted a range of foster children from troubled families and the cheerfulness and solidity with which she ran her 'family' was astounding. I could certainly learn from her.

On the other hand, I was upset by the situation of the policeman who misunderstood a Hmong's protest to his taking away the child and that the case proceeded in an incorrect manner. Some may have seen this as bias on the official's part. I think it was more cultural miscommunication and uncontested acceptance of stereotyping of another's culture. Yet the ramifications could have been huge. People may have, and almost did, kill themselves.

We see that, over and again, the Hmong were stereotyped as with the doctors who saw them as a 'dirty' people. I wondered how Peggy and Neil (and the rare others like them) could get past their own cultural leanings and see them in the objective way that they did.

I also wondered why someone like Jeanine had not been called in beforehand. Much expense and suffering would have been avoided had this been the case.

Chapters 8-9

I was struck by my discomfort in terms of the animal sacrifices that the Hmong perform yet upon reflection realized that I myself am quite comfortable with the killing of animals in other ways, such as for food. The basis of the Hmong slaughter of animals is for human healing. What, then, is the differnce between that and kilign for food..

I admired the Lees for their persistence in trying Western medicine despite their unfamiliarity with that way of life and despite the increasing sickness of their child. More so, cultural myths of shamanistic animism was rife in their culture, and many of them disallowed invasive medical surgery due to their belief that doing so will enable human souls and the spirits sometimes invading these souls of escaping. Lia's family was nonetheless ready to question this tradition in their overriding desire to help Lia

I pitied their confusion with the variability and characteristics of the medical regimen (with drugs being changed frequently) and the fact that their lack of English literacy hampered them from following instructions. I wondered at the fact that the doctors were not aware of this and that it took a Jeanine to recognize this fact. Above all, I was impressed at Neil and Peggy's scrupulous honesty to assess their failures and to see how they could improve.

I wondered how a second generation Hmong could merge so successfully in American culture -- despite the deep-rooted differences -- as May, for instance, seemed to do.

Chapters 10-11

I was shocked by the discovery that Lia's crisis was caused by a bacteria most likely acquired in the hospital setting. It reminds me of the nursery rhyme of the screw missing from the horse's shoe that caused the king to lose the war. The medical personnel spent hours of time, tremendous expense, and huge labor into years and years of attempting to maintain Lia's situation and implement some degree of improvement. In the end, it was something so small (an opportunistic bacteria) that could have been easily prevented that led to her demise.

I also gained an insight into the behavior patterns of the Hmong by learning of their origin, particularly that they were a mountainous people who, when they entered the lowlands, walked with an awkward gait. Much of the early ancestral pattern may have led to their personal tendencies in other ways such as to ramble around a theme rather than approach it directly.

I was impressed with the author's thorough and detailed research into all aspects of their life. Knowing their history helps one to understand the present.

I think that this book serves as wonderful primer, not only to anyone interacting with the Hmong, but to medical staff in general in order to teach them the importance of conducting research into the cultural histories and patterns of any specific patient population that they deal with. Sometimes doing so, as these chapters teach, can spell the differnce between life and death.

Chapters 12-13

I was impressed by the Lee's fortitude and resilience and by their survival skills.

In point of contrast, I was both shocked and struck by the schoolteacher's bland response when oen of the Lee children detailed the family history and chronicles. The teacher simply commented on the writing. It may be that the regular American's experiences are so different, generally sheltered and protected, particularly the white educated person living in the Californian community that the Lees lived in (Merced) that Corollaries can only be obtained via television and drama is not the same as real life.

It seemed to me that the Lees lived life, whilst many of their counterpart Americans simply saw it vicariously from media such as TV and could, in no wise, relate.

The Lee's ordeal reminded me of writings on evolutionary patterns in human development and survival. It seemed to me that the Lees contained characteristics that caused them to be survivors whilst so many others died.

It also made me wonder how we could so blithely categorize ourselves as more advanced when given their situation, it may quite likely have been the so-called primitive Hmong who would survive and we who would perish. Conceptualizations of 'progress', accordingly, often hinge on the context.

Chapter 14

What I was most struck by in this chapter was the different connotations of the word 'productivity'. According to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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