The Word ‘Youn’ Is a Casualty of Political Correctness in Cambodia

By Hassan Kasem

References in election campaign reporting, “Plenty of Mud, Paucity of Policy, in Election Discourse,” (May 31, page 1) to the word “Yuon” being implied or employed as a derogatory term does not address the historical context of the word.

The word Yuon is meant for an ethnic group known to the majority Khmer people for centuries. The Khmer call this ethnic group just that. In most households the word “Yuon” is used widely among Khmer, but in public everyone tries to be politically correct by referring to “Yuon” as “Vietnam” or “Junjiat Vietnam” (ethnic Vietnamese). The ethnic Cham call them Kuchi.

I find no difference in referring to colored and non-white people as Negro, Black and African-American, and White, Caucasian.

I asked many Vietnamese who were born and grew up in Cam­bodia before 1970—scholars, shop owners, activists—who said the word Yuon was never taken as an offensive, derogatory term or a slur.

After 1975, the Communist regime wanted every ethnic group in Vietnam, (the Radhe, the Jarai, the Khmer, the Bahnar, the Koho, the Cham, etc.) to be known as Vi­et­­namese. A similar approach has been attempted in Cambodia, suggesting that the Khmer should be called “junjiat Kampuchea,” instead of Khmer, as they know themselves to be. This new appellation “junjiat Kampuchea” would include many Vietnamese immigrants, illegal or otherwise.

The Khmer people were compelled to use the word “junjiat Vietnam,” instead of “junjiat Yuon” by UNTAC without study or consultation for what the word really means.

It would do a great service to the Khmer people if independent journalists find out why all of a sudden Yuon is a sensitive word.

Hassan Kasem, Washington

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