By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It’s one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer — especially if you’re Asian. For me, it’s not because it’s the first Asian-led studio film to hit theaters since The Joy Luck Club. It’s not just because people are calling it a landmark moment for Asian Americans in Hollywood.
I grew up in Asia and while there were American shows on TV, there were also locally-produced shows and I never wondered why the people on TV didn’t look like me.
For me, this movie is special because of one of the leads, newcomer Henry Golding, who plays Nick Young.
When talk show host Ellen DeGeneres asked, “So where are you from?”
Golding answered, “I’m Iban — I’m half Malaysian and half British.”
Google “Iban,” and the first few results are for International Bank Account Number (IBAN).
Google “Iban tribe,”… now we’re getting somewhere.
The Iban, or Sea Dayaks, are the largest indigenous group in Sarawak — a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.
When people (mostly other Asians) want to know what type of Asian I am, I’ve never answered “Iban” — unless it was another Malaysian asking, because it was too long of an explanation. I often get mistaken for Filipino, Vietnamese, sometimes Pacific Islander. Complete strangers will go down the list of all types of Asians and never come to “Iban.” After numerous guesses, I usually stop them and say, “I’m from Malaysia,” and leave it at that.
Because most of the world doesn’t know what “Iban” is. Not even Asians.
And that’s why I’m excited.
Henry Golding is a relative unknown now. But that is about to change.
Golding is a fully-trained hairstylist, actor, model, and television host. He has been a presenter on BBC’s The Travel Show since 2014.
Now he’s on the silver screen, on the international stage, sharing the limelight with internationally known stars such as Michelle Yeoh (who is also Malaysian, by the way).
And from now on, my answer to the question of my ethnic background will be, “Iban. You know, like that guy on Crazy Rich Asians.”
Finally, the world will learn more about this little-known and very fascinating tribe that is part of my heritage.
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.