Matthew Lennon

Asian/Spirit Summary

The Asian stories in the U.S. are an interesting comparison to other “oppressed” groups or minorities, and the Hmong situation is on a whole new level.  Many Asian groups were coerced into coming to America, or all but sold into slavery, and some even were sold as slaves, a practice that still exists to some extent today in the underground illegal immigration circles.  The difference Asians have from many other immigrant groups is that they have almost never had a violent resistance, and very little vocal resistance heard by the mass of white America.  I think that lack of pronounced uprising, combined with a few other things, has led to the ingrained stereotype of Asians as the “good minority.”

Enter the Hmong in the 1980s.  The Hmong were recruited by the U.S. military, more specifically the CIA, as local combatants, intelligence agents, and rescue teams before and during the Vietnam War and in the Secret Wars in Laos.  In return, they were promised that the U.S. would take care of them and provide sanctum against reprisals from the Viet, Laotian, and Thai governments.  Thus, though they were refugees in dire straits coming to the U.S., they were not coming as slaves or forced workers.  They were coming to a reward of sanctum from the U.S. government.  They did their job, they did much of the dirty work that American soldiers would not, and they saved many pilots and lost soldiers lives.  Yet when they arrived here, they found themselves forced into a society about which they cared nothing.  They expected land and to be left alone.  Now they had to partially conform, something they had never before done in thousands of years of roaming the Asian continent.  And we wonder why there is resentment in some Hmong elders’ eyes?

Spirit finally, though indirectly, touched on one of the primary challenges to ever reconciling differences and achieving true multiculturalism.  There is still a prevailing theme of Western Arrogance in much of institutionalized American culture.  “We know better and you will conform by choice or force.”  That is exactly what Neil said when he signed the petition for Child Protection Services to remove Lia from her parents’ house.  The perpetuation of cultural superiority by dominant white society will continue to prevent a multicultural community until it is deconstructed to base components and cast aside as false.

Activity: The Right Path

Grades:  6-8 

Time Requirement:  One 50-60 minute class


-Students will be able to explain multiple perspectives by writing a short definition citing the activity.

-Students will be able to explain that sometimes there are multiple right ways to do something by coming up with their own examples of multiple ways to do one thing.

Preparation: Cut four sets of tape totaling 30 feet in length each set.  Lay each set down on the floor creating a different path from the others from the back of the room to the front of the room.  All paths must have the same number of turns and total 30 feet in length.  Color code each set red, blue, yellow, and green.

Synopsis:  As students enter room, assign each student to a color and have them sit with that color.  The groups will have 5 minutes to traverse their path, time it, and get to know it well.  Teacher explains that in about a half hour, they are going to vote for the best path from the back of the room to the front, with no running.  Then the groups will have 8 minutes to create a 30 second spiel on why their path is the best.  Along the way, teacher is encouraging competition and riling things up.  Each group will then present their justification, with an additional minute for questions or clarifications.  Teacher will then pass out a sheet of paper to each student.

Now, instead of voting, the teacher will silence the class and explain how each path is exactly the same length of tape.  Each has the same number of turns.  Each path gets from the back of the class to the front of the class in almost identical times.  Then the teacher leads a discussion on why there was so much competition and why one path had to be right.  Finally, teacher asks why the students bought into the competition and that their path was right without traveling the other groups’ paths, leading into a discussion on multiple perspectives.

Assessment:  After the discussion, students will write two short paragraphs on their sheets of paper.

First paragraph will explain their understanding of multiple perspectives.  Students must cite three examples or points points from the activity and discussion.

Second paragraph will be explaining a specific situation where there are multiple “right” ways of doing something…eg. Painting a picture from different angles with different paints, playing a song on different instruments, what is a perfect birthday me

Thomas Gilgenbach  

I underwent a profound paradigm shift during and after reading “Spirit”. Before reading the book, I had little to no understanding of who the Hmong people were. I knew they fought on the US side in the Vietnam war and were tremendous fighters, but they were even less appreciated than our own service men and women and harbored some resentment due to that fact. I also viewed “refugees” as people who are in need of help, who have very little resources, are probably uneducated, and whose futures are very dependent on those who harbor them. But as I read the book, following the basic story line of a young girl whose epilepsy goes from bad to worse because of cultural divides, my view of refugees changed dramatically. I was awed by the physical and mental limits the Hmong would go to stay free, to keep their culture alive, and by how much they believed in the power of their culture. I “watched” as Lia got sicker and sicker because her parents, and her people, were unable to use Western medicine to their advantage, and because of US laws and our own cultural beliefs, unable to use traditional Hmong medicine to help her live. Lia was a victim of a cultural divide, and to some extent, a victim of being born too early for the power of the Internet which could have bridged that divide with better information for both sides. By the end of the book, I had great respect for the Hmong because they taught me “refugees” are not helpless. The Hmong just want to be left alone to preserve their culture. They came off as the toughest SOBs on Earth, standing up to China, the USSR, Laos, and the United States to name a few. I find it ironic that while we “give” them millions of dollars in aid and complain about them “freeloading”, we could have showed our appreciation for their help in Laos and Vietnam by giving them land instead of welfare and everyone would have been happier and better off.

The “cultural divide” theme is also apparent in the other data points I read about in class. The “Black on Asian” article, as well as the “Adoptedthemovie” youtube movie, shows me ignorance is not immune to one's cultural background or the color of their skin. While some communities like the Hmong are doing everything they can to protect their culture and seem to care less about what others think of them, assimilation is important to other cultures but they are constantly battling stereotypes; ideas that Asian men are nerdy or effeminate, Asian women are really smart, are matronly, or weak. In an effort to assimilate to our culture, many Asians (I've also learned the word Asian is a broad term for a huge part of our globe) are getting surgery, bleaching skin or hair, slimming their calves, or wearing “American” clothing. It's a huge price to pay to reach a normalcy that is hard enough for “natives” to attain on a daily basis.


  1. Students will describe what human migration.

  2. Students will identify various reasons people migrate and the difficulties they encounter.

  3. Students will contrast the differences and similarities between “Okies” and “illegal aliens”.

  4. Students will compose an essay outlining what the “American Dream” means to an American and how it is the same or different for a displaced person.

Snappy Launch:

How are people valued in the United States? Are you valued because you are a “native”? Because you pay taxes? Because you fulfill a need?

Watch the following video regarding Arizona Minutemen building a private fence along the Mexican border.

Next watch the following video regarding the need for low wage workers in Arizona.


1.  Take turns reading the following passages from “The Grapes of Wrath”:

“Once California belonged to Mexico and its land to Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in. And such was their hunger for land that they took the land – stole Sutter’s land, Guerrero’s land, took the grants and broke them up and growled and quarreled over them, those frantic hungry men; and they guarded with guns the land they had stolen… And as time went on, the business men had the farms, and the farms grew larger, but there were fewer of them.
Now farming became industry, and the owners followed Rome, although they did not know it. They imported slaves, although they did not call them slaves: Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos. They live on rice and beans, the business men said. They don’t need much. They wouldn’t know what to do with good wages. Why, look how they live. Why, look what they eat. And if they get funny – deport them.
And then the dispossessed were drawn west – from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Caravans, carloads, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless – restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do – to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut – anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live…

They had hoped to find a home, and they found only hatred. Okies – the owners hated them. And in the town, the storekeepers hated them because they had no money to spend… The town men, little bankers, hated Okies because there was nothing to gain from them. They had nothing. And the laboring people hated Okies because a hungry man must work, and if he must work, if he has to work, the wage payer automatically gives him less for his work; and then no one can get more.” (297-300) 

2.  Discuss the background for “The Grapes of Wrath” covering the Depression, Dust Bowl, and reasons for mass migration to California.

3.  Discuss similarities and differences between Okies and illegal aliens from Mexico.

4. Students will visit the following website: to learn why the Hmong migrated to the United States.

4. Students will write a 125 word essay contrasting the plight of the Okie with that of someone coming to the United States from another country; as well as contrasting the hopes and dreams of a migrant person with that of someone who already lives in the United States.


Migrant, Okie, Dispossessed, Dust Bowl, Depression, Factory Farm, Minute Men, Illegal Alien, Hmong, Laos, CIA, native, refugee

Student Assessment

The essay will be graded as follows:

Correct grammar and sentence structure: (Less than 3 errors = 3 points; 3-4 errors = 2 points; 5-6 errors = 1 point)

Identified four or more similarities or differences between an Okie and a migrant person from another country (Okie/Migrants); touched on three or more ideas on how a migrant person may view “the American Dream” and contrast that with how a “native” views that dream (American Dream); shows a clear understanding of what a refugee or illegal alien is (Refugee Status); included correct usage of 6 or more vocabulary words (Vocabulary); has an organized beginning, middle, and end, with effective transitions, and a summary paragraph (Organization): 35 points.

Okie/Migrants: two-three ideas; American Dream: two ideas; Refugee Status; some understanding; Vocabulary; 3-5 words with proper usage; Organization: organized beginning, middle, and end, no summary paragraph. 25 points.

Okie/Migrants: one idea; American Dream: one idea; Refugee Status; weak understanding; Vocabulary; 1 words with proper usage; Organization: unable to distinguish beginning, middle, or end, no summary paragraph. 10 points.

Jennifer Kaufenberg - Human Relations, Spring 2012: Hmong Reflection Summary

Fadiman wrote, if the United States seemed incomprehensible to the Hmong, the Hmong seemed equally incomprehensible to the United States (Fadiman, p. 188). Decades after the Hmong people fought alongside the Americans in Vietnam, became refugees crossing the ocean, and eventually relocating to various states like Minnesota, the Hmong people still struggle to maintain their cultural identity without being viewed as “walking out of the stone age.” The book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, was very moving and opened me up to a world I never knew existed. To be honest, I find it utterly wonderful and amazing that the Hmong have been able to hold on to the core of their beliefs and customs after being aggressively pushed around. As the Hmong were slaughtered, forced across Asia, and surrounded by a ten-foot stonewall they still maintained their culture. Perhaps they possess an inherent trait that allows them to preserve their cultural truth. Fadiman writes that the Hmong people do not steal or lie. They are self-sufficient people with no trace of jealousy of an outsider (Fadiman, p. 18). Their honest trusting nature clashes with the sometimes-wicked American society.

During class discussion, many of us realized – even though some had lived near, worked with, or gone to school with Hmong individuals – after reading the book we really had no idea about the Hmong culture and beliefs. I was part of the group that has never had contact with the Hmong population and knew little to nothing of the culture.

As I turned the pages of the book, I was drawn further into the Hmong world and wanted to learn more. I started searching the Internet and found beautiful images of Hmong New Year’s celebrations and fascinating stories about funeral ceremonies. Even, naming a newborn was a ceremony to call for the spirit of the child.

The most wonderful part of the Hmong culture comes from their pride in community and family. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, reinforces the Hmong sense of family and community continually throughout the powerful and nerve wrenching pages. By taking a closer, look into situations like Lia’s and other similar stories it becomes clear that love, pride and dedication bring Hmong families together.

Spiritual beliefs also reinforce the family and community ties. Individuals from western cultures often grapple with Hmong spirituality finding it weird and primitive. Hmong people are aware of this and they struggle to find ways to help others understand their culture. Communication was one barrier that prevented the Lee’s from working with their doctors and nurses in a more productive way. During an interview with the Lees, this simple need to communicate was revealed (Fadiman, p. 100) as Kao once put it, was “to tell you about Hmong culture so you can understand our way and explain it to the doctors.”

As an educator, I want to help close this communication gap by presenting students with a broader view of Hmong Americans. Too many times, we are caught up in our own lives and problems that we do not stop to see the true beauty in the people around us. The Hmong people have a rich beautiful culture. If we can look beyond the spiritual mystery, we will see people. People who love their children and believe in supporting their community. People who want to provide for their families, and live a content and peaceful life. Once we start to see people, perhaps there will be a chance for understanding.

Lesson Plan

9/10 Grade Language Arts

Lesson Title: An American Spiritual Journey

Objective: Students will connect to young Hmong adults by reading emails expressing how they feel about being a Hmong living in America. Students will compose an email letter, from the perspective of a Hmong teenager, illustrating their feelings about attending an American high school. Emails will demonstrate student understanding of Hmong social and spiritual hardships.

Supplies needed:

Launch: When students enter the classroom there will be a slideshow of a Minnesota Hmong New Year’s celebration playing.

Activity: Teacher will give a brief introduction about Hmong Americans living in Minnesota. Watch video about Hmong culture and why the Hmong people came to America. Guided class discussion about Hmong, the part they played in American history and the part they play in today’s society. As a class, read emails from young Hmong adults. Students will take turns reading emails out loud, teacher comments and guided discussion between readings.

Assignment: Students will take notes during discussion and use notes for email assignment and turn notes into teacher. Email assignment: Students will compose an email message from the aspect of a Hmong teenager and send it to the teacher. You are a Hmong teenager that is struggling with your social and spiritual life. You are in the 9/10th grade. Your teachers like having you in class and you get good grades. You are dedicated to your family and the Hmong community, but you are feeling lost and alone when you are at school. Compose an email (250-350 word) to a shaman in your community asking for advice. The email must express realistic social and spiritual concerns of a Hmong teenager and how it relates to a high school setting. 

Student Assessment: Email is 250-350 words (3 pts), illustrates realistic Hmong teenage issues and concerns in a high school setting (15 pts). Email writing is organized, has complete thoughts and accurate spelling (15 pts). Discussion notes (5 pts).

Extra Credit: Subject line is complete, wording is interesting and relevant to email message (2 pts).

Lesson Plan Assessment: Observe students during slide show and video to see if it holds their interest - if not consider redoing slideshow or selecting a new video. 100% of students will turn in discussion notes. Talk to individual students who do not turn in complete discussion notes. Students will score a minimum of 32 points on the email assignment. Teacher will address concerns with students who do not meet assignment criteria, individually. Consider re-teaching revised lesson if more than 60% of the students do not meet assignment criteria.

Standards: lesson incorporates 9-12 grade English-Language Arts standards – Reading for Perspective, Reading for Understanding, Communication Skills, Applying Knowledge, Multicultural Understanding, Applying Non-English Perspectives

Instructional Note: a shaman is the closet person to a psychotherapist (Fadiman, p. 95).


Robert Turner  Authored on: Feb 15, 2012 1:06 AM
An important feature of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the unfailing detail the author provides the reader. Whether it is the captivating forays into Hmong history or the way she weaves the findings from her exhaustive interviews with Lia Lee's family, doctors, interpreters, and caregivers, as well as government officials, Hmong leaders, and outside experts, into a compelling narrative, Ms. Fadiman leaves no stone unturned, painting a clear picture of Lia's medical treatment and the suffering that goes along with it.

As an enlightened reporter, the author has no trouble collecting data about Lia's case. It seems to simply take time and determination. The Lees, however, are prevented by language and cultural barriers from fully understanding Lia's U.S. doctors and their plans for her care.

Cultural dissonance, defined by Wikipedia as an "uncomfortable sense of discord, disharmony, confusion, or conflict experienced by people in the midst of change in their environment", plagues not only the Lees, but also the doctors, nurses, and social workers who attempt to help the Lees in ways they consider totally reasonable but are incomprehensible and sometimes terrifying to the Lees. Would the outcome of Lia's case had been different if her doctor's had "dealt with the Lees' perception of their daughter's illness (Spirit, p. 260)"? Perhaps. Did the Merced Community Medical Center staff see the Lees as people or only patients who needed to comply with medical orders?

In retrospect, better communication seems the obvious solution. But then consider Dr. Dan Murphy's comment that sending the Lees to medical school with the "world's greatest translator (Spirit, p. 259)" would not have changed their minds. Ironically, Dr. Murphy does not seem to question his own cultural competence in regard to the Hmong; what if he had studied Hmong culture for four years?

Ours is a culture of haste, of ready answers. So how do we cultivate a generation of learners open to difference, of students who value humanity in its myriad forms? Living among different cultures seems the logical route, eventually revealing the deep structure of human existence we all share. That commonality is undeniable if we choose to see it.

Activity: Culture Clash Role Play with Kleiman's 8 Questions

I. Lesson Title: Mock Cultural Dissonance

II. Objective: To model cultural dissonance using the target language (Spanish).

III. Outside Help/Supplies

     A. Community Members as Actors

     B. Props and Costumes

     C. Video Equipment with Web Access

IV. Snappy Launch: Visit Hmong Cultural Center at in order to expose students to Hmong culture. Explain Lia Lee's case briefly, emphasizing the role of cultural dissonance in Lia's medical care.

V. Procedure: Three adults from the community will act in a short play modeled after Arthur Kleinman's 8 questions. A native Spanish speaker will be interviewed about his/her child's behavior in school by an English-speaking doctor who relies on an interpreter to translate. The physician will prescribe medicine to "cure" the inappropriate behavior in spite of responses to the questions which indicate the underlying cause of the behavior has more to do with cultural differences and linguistic challenges than a real medical problem.

VI. Active Learning:

     A. Students will prepare for the play in advance by studying specific vocabulary.

     B. After the play, students will question the actors, still in role, about their characters.

     C. The following class, students will write a brief plot outline of the play in Spanish.

VII. Analysis & Assessment

     A. Class time will be spent analyzing why cultural differences caused miscommunication.

     B. Asessment: Spanish plot summaries will be graded based on grammar, vocabulary use, and content. For homework students will analyze the play's outcome in English and will develop their own solutions for better cross-cultural communication. Graded for content and originality.

VIII. Goals

     A. Appropriate use of Spanish. Listening, speaking, and writing practice. Synthesis of ideas in Spanish as linguistic competence allows.

     B. Introduce the concept of cultural dissonance based on an individual's frame of reference.

IX. Challenge: Writing a script using Spanish accessible to high school students. Consider having students write a script if able. Use humor to catch students' attention.

X. References:

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, 1997.

Spanish Medical Dictionary