The spirit catches you and you fall down by Anne Fadiman is a remarkable book, explaining the difficulties faced by Hmong refugees in the United States. Most importantly, Fadiman explains the complications of a system where two cultures try stepping on each other.
Although the book describes some very depressing and extraordinary situations, the characters in the book seem very realistic, and are shown in their true form of goodness. The Hmong, like most other Asians, have a very old medical heritage which runs parallel to their religious beliefs; this cultural aspect was one of the many complexities which were involved in their blending into the American style of living. In this book, Fadiman enlightens us on this and many other troublesome situations the Hmong people faced through the story of Lia Lee, a young Hmong girl who is diagnosed with epilepsy.Lia's Hmong family is among a group of new refugees in California. Her treatment was looked over by American doctors who failed to communicate adequately with her parents. The doctors were in many cases unaware of the Hmong's cultural understanding of epilepsy. Their completely scientific view of this situation was revolted by the Hmong family who believed that this was a special religious condition which they called "the spirit catches you and you fall down"- quag dab peg, which would allow her to heal others later in her life. The real complications arose with their conflicting healing processes.
The Hmong belief in animism and their other religious rituals which were opposed by American doctors who wanted to medicate Lia with the remedies of modern science. This difference was magnified with the cultural and communication gap which existed between them. Lia's family was among the many Hmong refugees who were brought into the United States during the 1800's. The Hmong in the U.S. came mainly from Laos as refugees after the Vietnam War.