by the Stanford Vietnamese Student Association (SVSA)
The Tribune Media Services recently published an opinion article titled, “Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam’s appetites remain unique,” written by Stanford’s Joel Brinkley, a Hearst Visiting Professional in the Department of Communication. In the article riddled with stereotypical assertions and cultural judgments, Professor Brinkley has denounced the country of Vietnam and its people as “gruesome” and “aggressive” with a backwards diet of endangered animals in the midst of its rising economic status. The Stanford Vietnamese Student Association (SVSA), in solidarity with numerous on-campus organizations, find this article to be a perversion of the cultural image of Vietnam and an antithesis to the mission of universal tolerance and acceptance that Stanford University — students, faculty, and staff alike — should promote.
Professor Brinkley’s article is a thinly veiled attack on the culture of Vietnam with its culinary habits in the spotlight. His offensive statements and baseless arguments, such as the assertion that the Vietnamese have consumed almost all of their wild and domesticated animals, are grossly inaccurate and sensationalistic; they are loosely based on statistics that are rooted in unmentioned context. Professor Brinkley defends his opinion piece by stating that he has seen Vietnam with his own eyes on a short 10 day trip and that certain unnamed individuals have confirmed his story; he responds to opposition by further insulting other cultures with no scientific proof or backing. To these claims we must reply that his research was negligent and fallacious. The advancement of arguments based on personal observation and mere hearsay is incredibly negligent. It is impossible for Professor Brinkley to see the real Vietnam, with its beauty along with its true faults, if he approaches the experience with an ethnocentric prejudice. For example, his critical statements on the “tradition” of eating dogs for good luck are an incomplete literal translation of a Vietnamese proverb praising living dogs for bringing wealth to a family. He also seems to ignore that the consumption of dog is not “unique” to Vietnam. His lack of care for properly introducing the traditions of a foreign culture is evident in his disregard for the subtle nuances of customs he does not understand. It is true that a small minority of the Vietnamese eat dog meat, but his portrayal of a barbaric Vietnamese population and his judgments on cultural practices that are different than his are simply racist. As for his native sources to whom he does refer, Professor Brinkley anonymizes them to reduce the perspectives of the Vietnamese people to hardly a whisper.
Furthermore, the Vietnamese population is composed of 54 ethnic groups, each diverse in its own customs. For Professor Brinkley to judge an entire nation by the actions of a few individuals is to ignore a hallmark of Vietnamese culture, beautiful because it is so multifaceted.
Given his reputable career as a Pulitzer-winning foreign correspondent for multiple large publications — not to mention his ambassadorship to academia here at Stanford — Professor Brinkley has a responsibility to present the truth. In this regard, he has disappointed the student body he has pledged to mentor and inspire as an educator; we expect more from our professors than unscientific claims connecting the supposed “aggression” of an entire nation to the meat on their dinner plates. His influence in the industry becomes a misguided weapon: By condemning a culture he hasn’t bothered to understand, he insults not only the native Vietnamese, but Vietnamese and other Asians around the world. We have endured and fought against the stereotypical jokes and rumors surrounding our cultures, but he has pushed Asian Americans back into the “foreigner” status, outliers in their new homes. Professor Brinkley has poorly reflected the Stanford community, oft-considered a haven of cultural understanding and critical thinking, and he has tainted the atmosphere of tolerance for diversity on our campus.
To Professor Brinkley: You wrote in a previous article that Vietnam “is a country to watch — and perhaps, one day soon, to admire.” We hope that in light of our response you will revisit your insensitive words with a clearer understanding of your mistaken judgments and instead give Vietnam and its people a fair chance to reach the potential you once envisioned.
Stanford Vietnamese Student Association
Stanford Asian American Activism Committee
Stanford Asian American Students’ Association
Stanford Hmong Student Union
Stanford Korean Student Association
Stanford National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Stanford Sigma Psi Zeta
Stanford Lambda Phi Epsilon
Stanford Alpha Kappa Delta Phi
Muslim Students Awareness Network
Stanford Black Student Union
Stanford Pilipino American Student Union
ASSU Community Action Board
ASSU 14th Undergraduate Senate
Stanford Asian American Graduate Student Association
SEALNet (Southeast Asian Leadership Network)
Stanford Movimento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán
Stanford Khmer Association
Formed in the spring of 1993, the Stanford Vietnamese Students Association (SVSA) has served as a second family for all members, providing a support network as well as opportunities to increase cultural and ethnic awareness. SVSAparticipates in many on-campus activities, including its annual Lunar New Year Festival, Spring Culture Night, and High School Academic Conference. SVSA seeks to not only cultivate awareness, culture, and community among our members, but we aim to spread our message among the different communities at Stanford and beyond.