Anne Fadiman's book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998) is an intelligent and moving - and unsettling story - about the costs that individuals must sometimes have to pay for living in a multicultural society and the challenges that immigrants face in the United States, even after they think that they have made it to the promised land. Fadiman also shows how the American mainstream cultural establishment - in this case represented mostly by the doctors and other medical personnel that work with one particular immigrant family - sometimes finds itself unable to help newcomers to make the leap into the often perilous new world of their dreams.
Lia Lee was born in 1981 to a family of recent Hmong immigrants to California, and soon developed symptoms of epilepsy. By 1988 she was living at home but was brain dead after a tragic cycle of misunderstanding, overmedication, and culture clash in which Lia's family came to regard her doctors and other medical staff as unrelentingly arrogant.
This paper examines the ways in which Lia and her siblings were and were not integrated in U.S. society after first looking at the family's history and the tragic ways in which their traditional spirituality came into conflict with Western medical practices and views and how Fadiman presents the story of this girl and her family in an evenhanded way that allows us to see both the faults and the grace on both sides. Fadiman resists the easy impulse to create either simple heroes or obvious villains. The primary characteristic of every human to appear on her pages is frailty, most often combined with the desire to do good.
Nao Kao and Foua Lee and their children came to the United States because they felt they had no other option. They could not return to their home in Laos because there they faced persecution, yet they had to leave their refugee camp in Thailand because it had been scheduled to close. They settled ...