Helping the Hmong community to better health care.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Cher Vang
  • Age at interview - 31
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 02.03.1992
  • Sua Yang working as an interpreter at Regions Hospital, St. Paul, 1980s.
    Family in Ban Vinai refugee camp, Thailand.  Photo courtesy MayKao Hang.

    We Are Here

    Essential Question

    We Are Here: What does it mean to this immigrant group to be here in America?

    Contributions: How is America better off because of this group of immigrants?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Traditional Hmong religious practices involve worship of ancestors and natural spirits.  These spirits affect everyone’s daily life, for good and bad, and they can be contacted with the help of a spiritual leader called a shaman.  The shaman is also a healer, and people go to him for treatment of the same kinds of illnesses that would cause a person to go the doctor’s office here in the U.S.  According to Hmong tradition, a person has several souls, and sickness is caused by upsetting one of the souls.  There are specific rituals, chanting, and ceremonies that must be performed by the Shaman in order to discover the problem and then please the upset soul and make the person healthy again.  Sometimes these rituals include special herbs or sacrificing an animal. 

    It has been difficult for many Hmong people to accept the practices of Western medicine because they sometimes go against Hmong beliefs.  One example of this is surgery.  Traditionally the Hmong believe that cutting a person means opening them up to allow bad spirits to come into the body.  When the Hmong newcomers do not speak English well, then it is easy to become suspicious of unfamiliar medicines and treatments that doctors prescribe.  The medical system has adapted in the U.S. by providing training on cultural practices and beliefs for health care workers to better prepare them for dealing with not only Hmong patients, but other new immigrants.  Translators for Hmong, Somali, and Hispanic immigrants are commonly provided so that patients understand the care they are getting.  Hospitals have had to become more responsive to individual patient needs. 

    To learn more about Hmong history and culture, visit our Hmong Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Cher Vang 3
    1:46 Minutes | 1.69Mb


    Narrator: Cher Vang (CV)

    Actually, right now my title is parent representative/interpreter. Pretty much what I do, I explain the procedure of what the medical staff want to do for the Hmong patients. And then, just educate the Hmong patients to understand the health care in this country and at the same time help the medical staff to understand the belief in the culture of the Hmong people, so that we can blend those two together.

    Because, sometimes, when the Hmong people come to the hospital and if they're going to do like 100% Western medicine, then the Hmong people will say, "No,no,no, that's not the way it works in my country." So you have to allow the doctor to know how the people feel and how the people feel about the doctor, so you just kind of bring the people together like that. And before I got the job, I think this whole mess in this hospital is not because they did something wrong, but it's because people are different. And the Hmong people think they are different, so the hospital must treat them differently than they treat other people, so they see some kind of prejudice or discrimination right there. And besides that, the doctor seems to do what they think is best according to the Western medicine. And the Hmong people just say, "No, no, no, that is not what we want, what we just want this much."

    Today I think the doctor seems to understand the Hmong people more and the Hmong people seem to understand why we want to do a certain test or whatever we do. We don't seem to have that problem any more like we used to in the past. 

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Noun:  Unfair treatment of an individual or group based on their religion, ethnicity, or other reason.


    Noun:  A negative judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts.


    Noun:  A series of small tasks or steps taken to accomplish a task.

    Western medicine

    Noun:  The type of medical treatment that is the most popular in North America and Western European countries, based on the use of drugs and surgery to treat symptoms.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 487