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Chapter 14

L48 Anthro 3283 Chapter Notes - Chapter 14: Survivor Guilt, Heart Failure, Culture Shock

Course Code
L48 Anthro 3283
Benson Peter

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Fadiman Ch. 14 (p. 181- 209)
Lee family arrived in U.S. on Dec. 18, 1980
When they first got here, they were in Portland with some relatives; they had to show
them everything
o First time seeing a toilet; didn’t know what it was for or how to use it
o Went to store and didn’t know cans and packages had food in them
o Afraid to use stove, thought it might explode
o Relatives said in America the food you don’t eat, you just throw away; in Laos
they always fed the rest to animals, otherwise it would be a waste
o Thought it was a strange country
17 years later, use American appliances, but there is hardly any American culture in their
o Jeanie is the only guest that has been invited to their house
Hmong came to America for the same reason they left China: to resist assimilation: they
didn’t only come to America to save their lives, but also to save their Hmong ethnicity
o Involuntary migrants; don’t melt into whatever pot thrown in
Wanted to be left alone to be Hmong
o To be agrarian, self-sufficient, protected from government interference
Hmong nicknamed “Just off the Jet” (JOJs)
Cultural orientations and training given to immigrants and refugees to teach about
American life and customs
Hmong used to live in the mountains, most have not seen snow
o Most were sent to live in major cities, where most of the refugee-centered services
were concentrated
o Encouraged assimilation, and to avoid burdening any one community with more
than its “fair share” of refugees, they adopted a policy of dispersal rather than
o Many clans were broken up; spread throughout the country so they’d disappear
o Group solidarity, a main part of Hmong social organization, was ignored
Refugee agencies produced a list of American customs for the refugees to follow
o The customs they were expected to follow were so peculiar and numerous, the
language was hard to learn, the emphasis on literacy was so strong the Hmong
were overwhelmed
U.S. seemed incomprehensible to the Hmong, and vice versa
o Called them the “most primitive refugee group in America,” “Stone Age”
Unexpected Death Syndrome early 1980s, leading cause of Hmong men in the U.S.;
triggered by cardiac failure, often during or after a bad dream; no one has been able to
explain what causes this, but there were theories that it was sleep apnea, culture shock,
survivor guilt, or vitamin deficiency
An anthropologist said that “the kinds of metaphorical language that we use to describe
the Hmong say more about us, and our attachment to our own frame of reference, than it
does about them”
Senator called them “the most indigestible group in society
False rumors circulated about the Hmong
Hmong felt unwelcome in U.S.; violence towards them, even kids
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