As we Asians/Southeast Asians/Malaysians bask vicariously in Michelle Yeoh’s glittering success and ultimate recognition by Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, take a moment to discover the journey of her fellow Asian co-star and Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor, Vietnamese American Ke Huy Quan. While Michelle’s journey to the Oscar red carpet may have been paved in gold, Ke’s was that of a wandering vagrant; a nameless, faceless, invisible immigrant eking out a living toiling the backstreets of Hollywood.
Ke’s family were originally Vietnamese boat people, fleeing refugees by boat off the war torn coast of then South Vietnam in the early 70s. His father and four year old him, sailed northeast towards Hong Kong, while his mother and siblings sailed southwest towards Malaysia; it was typical for families to deliberately divide to maximise their chances of eventually reaching and reuniting in America, which they did against all odds. Ke has defied all odds again more than four decades later.
My wife, a Southeast Asian (ASEAN) Games gold medalist in her youth (in silat olahraga, the Malay form of martial arts), once told me: on the great big stage when they hold up your hands in victory against your opponent, embrace humility even as you fix your teary eyes on the 🇲🇾 flag, because only you know how ridiculously impossible the journey actually was. Everyone else thinks it was destiny.
Passion, bravery and grit are what separates the dreamer from the day dreamer. In this Michelle and Ke are exactly the same.