Editor’s note: The decision to characterise the term yuon as a racist epithet when used to describe the country of Vietnam or its citizens in the story ‘Sam Rainsy declares border victory’ (February 2, 2010) by Meas Sokchea was made by the editors of The Phnom Penh Post. We invite all readers to register their opinions on this issue and urge them to direct their comments to the editors of the newspaper and not individual reporters, who played no role in determining editorial policy on this matter.
I am dismayed at Sokchea Meas’s ignorance of the meaning of the word yuon (“Sam Rainsy declares border victory”, February 2, 2010). As a Cambodian, Mr Meas should have known clearly that this word had existed in the Khmer vocabulary since time immemorial, even before the existence of the word “Vietnam” and that the meaning of the word is not “a racist epithet”.
The word yuon we Cambodians use to describe the Vietnamese people is equivalent to the word mien the Vietnamese people use to describe the Khmer people. If the Vietnamese are offended by the word yuon, then should we Khmer be offended by the word mien that they use to describe us?
The word yuon is a neutral vocabulary. It does not carry any racist connotations. If anything at all, it is just a slang word equivalent to the words “Aussie” for the Australians, “Yankee” for the Americans, “Pommie” for the English or “Kiwi” for the New Zealanders, etc.
Also, the word yuon is a Khmer word we use to call the Vietnamese, while the word Vietnam is a Vietnamese word the Vietnamese people use to describe themselves. If the Vietnamese are offended by the word yuon, should the French be offended when the English people called them French instead of the French words “Francais” or “Francaise”? Or vice versa, should the English people feel offended when the French people call them “Anglais” or “Anglaise” instead of “English”?
The Thai call Khmer kmen, not Khmers, and we don’t feel offended. But when Khmer people call Thai people siem (derived from the word Siam), the world thinks that we are racist. The world has always looked at Cambodians as the villains with regard to Khmer-Vietnamese relations and Khmer-Thai relations. It is not fair.
I hope The Phnom Penh Post can be clear on the definition of the word yuon from now on.
For your information, I’d like to draw your attention to a detailed article by Kenneth T So regarding the definition of the word yuon:
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