About Cultural Diversity

A crucial component of society is culture. The traditions, beliefs, conduct, language, and values of the people are used to define their way of life and are traits of the community, group, or organization. Different people live their lives in different ways. There will therefore always be cultural variation among people of various origins. The cultural disparity can occasionally provide a barrier to social engagement. Therefore, in order to act and respond appropriately during a contact, it is vital to be aware of the cultural background of those involved. The book by Anne Fadiman demonstrates the cultural contrasts and parallels that occur (Fadiman, 2012). Lia is one of the characters in the book. Her story helps bring out the concept of cultural diversity through her upbringing. She is Hmong and has parents who esteem the Hmong way of life very highly even in the American setting. As an American, my cultural perspective differs significantly with the Hmong. However, the interactions between individuals demand a mutual respect for personal beliefs and cultural affiliations. This document gives a comparison of the American way of life and the Hmong way of life; the similarities shared as well as the differences between them.

Lia Lee was born to the Lee family on July 19th, 1982 in in the Merced Community Medical Center which was a modern medical facility. She was the fourteenth daughter of her parents. Foua and Nao Kao were her mother and father respectively. She was a healthy baby at birth, weighing eight pounds and seven ounces, with appropriate conditions for gestation stage as stated by one of the doctors at the Merced Community Medical Center. The origin of her name was a ceremony which took place on the third day after her birth. The ceremony took place to make her recognized as a human being and also determine her name. This is in keeping with the Hmong culture. Lia, later on, became a victim of epilepsy. She was three months old when her older sister, Yer shut the door of the apartment with force, and soon afterward, Lia fainted. Her parents blamed the incident on Yer, not willing to understand that their daughter had developed epilepsy. Epilepsy marked the beginning of the struggle in Lia's life because she would visit the hospital regularly after that, almost every time with some new ailment coming to surface. She suffered through this painful period. Some of the doctors termed her as brave because normally for children after facing needles, they would cry upon sight of the physician. Lia was considered a friendly girl because she was not stubborn, she even played with some of the doctors.

Medical services for Lia were a bone of contention between the care providers and the parents. Hmong culture does not esteem the professional medical attention highly. This is not a new observation since the cultural perspectives of different communities will often consider other sources of healing as more powerful. For instance, spiritual guidance is at times considered to be a better way to heal than medical services, while other cultures such as Hmong will often have greater faith in the traditional and herbal medication. This alternative belief in other medication often breeds skepticism as it did in Lia’s parents who would not give the prescribed medication to the sick child. Because of failing to understand the cultural background of the patient, the attending physician Neil had to file a case against them, and Lia was taken away from them. Neil had misinterpreted the case as one of the parents who bear their children ill will. However, the parents, in keeping with cultural values, were protecting their child. Lia's health deteriorated further over time, leading to cerebral motor damage. She lost most of her ability to move and converse, resulting in the performance of the soul-calling ritual in an attempt to save her soul from the "dab" that had stolen it. Here, the healing process of the Hmong culture is initiated by invoking religious and spiritual rites.

The Hmong believe to have originated from the regions of China, where they would have constant battles for dominance with the Chinese people. They were individuals who valued freedom as shown by their rebellion from the Chinese people whose population was more than theirs by almost two hundred and fifty times. They would fight always, and even though they lost, they would rise again and find some place to settle. They were a small race, but they were great men. They never had their country or a king worthy of his name, and yet they managed to live through the ages, free people, with a right to live in the world. The history makes the Hmong a proud people with a steadfast hold on their cultural practices as the key that has made them survive so far. It is not easy to have them let go of this culture.

The Hmong valued their beliefs regarding various aspects of life. They had a strong spiritual connection because they believed in spirits, religious leaders, and rituals. They had a religious leader, a shaman, who would intervene in religious matters. It was believed that the shaman could enter into a state of trance, summon a bunch of familiar spirits and ride winged horses through dangerous spiritual realms to negotiate the health of the patient with the spirits of the unseen realms. They were believed to be able to counter such issues as infertility and a stolen soul by a spirit.

The Hmong's religious beliefs also involved dabs. Dabs were thought to be malevolent spirits which had the ability to take a person's soul and contain it at will, or even cause infertility in some situations. It was believed that a dab could cause infertility to a woman of child-bearing age who entered a cave by having sexual intercourse with her. Dabs could also injure a mother who gives childbirth away from home or the house of one of the husband's cousins. A dab could also cause illness to a person if the dab drank his blood or even sits on his chest while sleeping.

Power in the Hmong was given to special few people. The shamans are an example of such chosen people. It was believed that they were spiritually touched to be able to connect with the spiritual realm. They were supposed to perceive things that the ordinary person could not perceive. Being chosen to be a spiritual connection was considered to be power because the people believed that the spirits would not accept anyone who was not worthy of the privilege.

Power over a child's welfare in the Hmong society is also considered to be entirely in the parents' hands. They believe that well-being of the child is best known by the parent and no other governing body should be able to interfere, such as the court as in Lia's case. It is believed that only the family members and respected family lineage leaders were the other bodies that could influence what happens to the child because they were a part of the family and they could not bring the child any harm.

Hmong and American culture are significantly different. Hmong cultures bestow the control of the child's life entirely in the parent's hands. This is unlike American culture where the child is considered an individual being separate from the parents. The parental decision can, therefore, be easily overridden by society if it is perceived not to be in the child's best interest. American culture is also strongly rooted in science and the attendant medical practice. It is different from Hmong culture which has spirituality at the center of the healing process. The Hmong have a complex belief system consisting of spiritual entities, spiritual leaders and very specific roles and rites. There is a glaring absence of these in the American culture. In the American culture, religion is left to faith-based institutions, which do not have any mandate to overrule the medical institutions when it comes to health. Also, the scientific emphasis on American culture attributes ill health to organisms and internal biological processes while the spiritual-based health concept of the Hmong emphasizes a role for the spirits and individual actions in their well-being. It is believed that Lia's spirit was taken by an evil spirit and that is the reason the shaman is summoned to try and offer a sacrifice that would free her soul.

There are, however, similarities between the Hmong and the American ways of life. Such a similarity can be seen in the value they place on life. In both cultures, life is sacred, and the interventions are designed to preserve life. Also, both cultures highly regard childbirth. Thirty days after delivery, the Hmong woman is to be given special foods such as the steamed rice, chicken boiled in water and some special herbs. This shows that they appreciate their wives. It is the same for an American society because they would show the appreciation for the woman for example by throwing a party to welcome the newly born child and presents to show that the woman is appreciated for her effort during childbirth.

The religious practices are also similar in some ways. In the Hmong way of life, whenever there is a problem, a shaman would be summoned to intervene. It was believed that the shaman had a spiritual connection to the divinities. This resembles the belief in religious leaders and deities such as preachers and the Lord respectively. It demonstrates that Americans would also be inclined to seek answers from God through the priests. The belief in an entity higher than themselves is common to both cultures.

Having a client such as Lia would be a challenge for an American doctor because of the difference in culture. However, a difference in culture is no barrier to service delivery for as long as both parties can agree on mutual respect. A translator can bridge any language barrier that may arise from the difference in culture. Also, the doctor would need to have a good grasp of the Hmong culture to understand the possible challenges that would arise such as defaulting on medication. It would, therefore, be of paramount importance to sit down and explain to the parents the management regime that will be offered and find out any concerns they may have. Following this, the regimen can be tailored to suit the cultural set up of the patient. However, where it is impossible to compromise and find a middle ground, it is vital that the parents are made to understand why this has to happen. If a suitable intervention cannot be found at all, then the best course of action would be to refer the patient to another doctor with a better understanding of the culture.


Fadiman, A. (2012). The spirit catches you, and you fall down: A Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures. New York: Macmillan.

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