The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

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Any change of residence necessitates a need to adapt to new natural, economic, social, and sometimes ethnic and cultural terms both biologically (acclimatization) and socio-psychologically. In many cases, it is carried out quite painfully and not always successfully since people adopt “disadaptative syndrome” that characterizes physiological and psychological state of a person who was not able to adapt to new environment. The need for adaptation arises when individuals or entire groups find themselves in a social medium, with different culture and social organization. The homeland is not only the space of social life, where they held a certain position, were endowed with a certain status and fulfill certain social roles, it is also the physical space of life, with its natural geographic, environmental and climatic factors. In her book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman in details describes how a refugee can deal with occupation change and difficulties in finding a common language with the new social system. The Hmong appeared to be a perfect illustration of immigration effects on a particular cultural group having a rich cultural heritage.

Social adaptation can occur in active or passive form, but more often they are faced simultaneously. The active form of social adaptation is characterized by the fact that an entity acting in the social environment tends to change (adjust to already developed ideas about the norms and rules of social behavior). Another way to adapt - passively accept all the values, beliefs and rules of the host social group. In case of the Hmong refugees, one can observe the combination of two – they moved far from their homeland, but saved the social and cultural structure they got used to, though partly accepted the ruled of the new system.

Fadiman writes that when the Lees family first came to America, they knew nothing about its cultural and social life. Furthermore, they did not even know how to use the bathroom and wanted to pay for food in the plane (Fadiman 104). In my view, one of the greatest problems faced by the Hmong when moving to America is the lack of knowledge. ll the problems faced by the Lees family and other Hmong in the U.S. caused by the fact that both the American agencies and Hmong did not know a bit about each other. Therefore, they could not find a common language and considered each other as strange and sometimes bizarre people. As a result of this cultural conflict the Hmong were afraid of American representatives and doctors, social workers and  those were tired of such intercultural communication. Thus, they were treated not as Americans and since the Hmong became associated with a constant problem among the U.S. authorities, they were perceived with indulgence and it influenced the legal (taking Lia from the family) and clinical (high doses of a sedative to calm Lia down) decisions (Anderson, Moscou, Fulchon, and Neuspiel 433).

In my opinion, this intercultural conflict could have been avoided in case there was a little more tolerance, patience and education from the American side. For the Lees, it was already a great challenge and sacrifice to let the American social life come and penetrate their lives. On their hand, Americans supposed that their medical, political and social systems were the only proper ones. Doctors at the hospital did not even try to familiarize with Hmong traditions, but only fastened their medical views and claimed “The Lees are so ungrateful for their daughter’s free medical care” (Fadiman 254). I believe that if doctors and social workers had known more about Hmong culture and treated the Lees not as the aborigines getting free medical care, a lot of problems would have been prevented. I think that the author had the same opinion since it is she who treated the Lees with interest and tolerance, gave the support and understanding, which they wanted. Fadiman believed that the conflicts between Americans and the Hmong appeared because the latter felt dependent on American facilities and the U.S. agencies let them understand that they were right (104).

The main way to adapt is to accept the norms and values of the new social environment (groups, collectives, organizations, territorial communities, which surround an individual) and established forms of social interacttion (formal and informal networks, leadership style, family and neighborly relations). It is revealed through the category of social norms, values, personal and social interests and social functions. To my mind, in the book the Hmong did their best to adapt  to the U.S. traditions, despite the fact that it was hard for them. However, Americans did very little to adapt to the Hmong culture and it was the root of the intercultural conflicts described in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

The issue raised in this book is very serious and should be considered within the whole social system of the U.S. As for me, the book influenced me very much since I perceived all complications and misunderstanding faced by the Lees family very personally. This book will definitely have an impact on my future life as a citizen since now I know the difficulties faced by immigrants and my attitude to them changed. I think that people should be more curious and tolerant towards other cultures. For me, the first thing to be done in order to become more tolerant towards refugees is to stop judging. Many people were forced to come to the U.S. due to different life circumstances, and one should understand that. The outlook of the host population towards migrants primarily shapes the interaction between these two cultures. In fact, the adaptation is a threshold that must crossed not only by migrants. The host society must also adapt to the visitors and, thus, restore the balance of security swayed by their appearance.

Concluding the consideration of this issue, one can note again that the social adaptation to the new environment emerges as a complex and multi-level process. It essentially involves all aspects of culture and lifestyle and reflects  some social, psychological and biological parameters; each change can occur independently from the others, which makes it impossible to estimate as some individual indicators. The integration of migrants into a different society is an extremely difficult, painful and lengthy process, which can be observed in the Lees case, but all the difficulties can be avoided. There should only be some tolerance and patience from both sides.

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