Part 2 - Challenging the Stereotype: Do Vietnamese People Eat Dogs?—Literature by Andrew Lam
Read part one of this article, "Part 1 - Challenging the Stereotype: Do Vietnamese People Eat Dogs?" here.
Vietnamese people are often cast into a number of stereotypes. This often prevents meaningful interactions with those that do not know them.
In Andrew Lam's Birds of Paradise Lost, a collection of short stories, the protagonist in the story "Yacht People" challenges the stereotype that Vietnamese people eat dogs by turning the narrative into a parody:
How are you doing tonight? Hot? Yeah, sure is hot. We’re having a tropical heat wave, folks. So hot, it reminds me of coconut trees and thatched roof huts. It makes me think of myself as this impossibly handsome little boy playing with his dog, or, as so many of you are fond of putting it, playing with his food.
Yeah, as I was saying, I was playing with Next Week’s Menu getting him to roll over in fish sauce and lemongrass, jump into the wok, and play dead… (129)
In this scene, the heat carries romantic notions of tropical regions: “coconut trees and thatched-roof huts.” The sentimental imagery reminds the protagonist of his dog, or, to which he accuses his audience of thinking, “his food.” In satire, he continues his childhood memory of playing with “Next Week’s Menu”; doing tricks with him such as rolling over, jumping, and playing dead; except, the protagonist jests that he’s preparing his dog for next week’s menu.
This passage demonstrates one of the difficulties of storytelling: listeners often have preconceived notions about the storyteller on the basis of the their background and ethnicity. The audience’s assumptions interrupt the flow of the story—what should be a sentimental and innocent image of a young boy playing with his dog turns gruesome based on stereotypes that pigeonhole the storyteller. However, the protagonist takes control of his audience. Through satire, he points out their assumptions in order to call attention to their ignorance.
As the story continues, the protagonist light-heartedly recalls his harrowing memory of escaping Vietnam. He had to leave everything behind and load up into a fishing boat packed with other people. Suddenly, the protagonist says, “What? Who said that? What did we do with the dog?” (130). Not only does this passage highlight the experience of being interrupted during storytelling, it also emphasizes the absurdity of the assumption that Vietnamese people eat dogs. The interruption serves as a metaphor for the dangers of stereotyping others for it distorts their real experiences and personhood. By stereotyping the protagonist, the audience does not take him seriously and therefore, the main focus of the story shifts from these experiences to whether or not he ate his dog. Rather than defend himself, the protagonist pokes holes in the stereotype by mocking it: “The dog? Hell, we tied a recipe with some lemongrass around his neck and sent him to our neighbor as a parting gift, you know, kinda like a Vietnamese version of meals on wheels. That’s right, don’t boo. You heard me” (130). Then, with tongue in cheek, he reveals that he truly misses his pet dog—one he most definitely never ate: “Seriously though, I really miss my Next Week’s Menu” (130). By employing sarcasm, the protagonist successfully challenges the stereotype.
Not only do parodies like Andrew Lam’s “Yacht People” call attention to the impropriety of stereotyping others, they also show the harmful effects of stereotyping. Find Andrew Lam’s Birds of Paradise Lost here for the entire short story.
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A San José native and a recent graduate from University of Santa Cruz with honors in Literature, Carolyn has a deep appreciation for Vietnamese American literature and the Vietnamese American community. She is excited to be a part of an organization such as Chopsticks Alley, one that celebrates Vietnamese American culture and encourages positive self-identification. Driven by her educational background in literary criticism, she seeks to empower those who are historically marginalized, underrepresented, and underserved through literature and writing. She is also a dog-lover and has been a professional Dog Training Instructor for over 7 years!