I have been reading "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" which is a book about Lia Lee, a Hmong infant with a terrible seizure disorder, and the culture clash between the American medical system and the Hmong people. I am instantly wary of all such books, because 99% of them are about how stupid the American medical system is, and lay the blame squarely at the doctors' feet.
This book is remarkably fair, and showcases the completely divergent cultural attitudes. I was discussing this book with a colleague, and remarked, "This story is horrible. I almost wish it was malpractice, but how much worse when everyone has the best of intentions, and still they cannot do something so basic as care for a little girl."
There are two things about this book that got to me though. One is that the book talks greatly about the Hmong people. It helped me to understand a lot about the Hmong patients I have seen, but the thing that got me the most is how the author talks about Hmong culture, but in reality, I have discovered something on my own quite in opposition to the book.
The problem with immigrant cultures in the US is not just one of assimilation. It is that the culture of the Old World is stagnant. It cannot grow. All change is viewed as corruption from the American way of life, and these transplants who were once the most liberal of their generation become the most rigidly conservative. And for me, the way of life that I was taught I now understand to be archaic. I am a man living a dead culture.
The other bit from the book is a line from one of the Hmong people, Jonas Vangay, a French educated man who helps the Hmong community to navigate the American bureaucracy. He utters this aphorism: "I am always the one who laughs last at a joke. I am a chameleon animal. You can place me anyplace, and I will survive, but I will not belong [sic]. I must tell you that I do not really belong anywhere."
I have never read a line that I have felt is a more appropriate description for myself. And I can't help but think to myself that truer words have never been spoken.