• Writer Angelica Silva and her childhood best friend, Sylvia. (Angelica Silva )Source: Angelica Silva
I’m a fruit salad with all the other diverse people of Australia - one big toss-up of unique identities and personalities. Saying that I am Australian, Singaporean and Indian doesn’t really begin to cover it.
By
Angelica Silva

16 Apr 2021 - 8:26 AM  UPDATED 11 Nov 2021 - 2:39 PM

When I was eight years old, Saturday mornings were my favourite day of the week. 

Much to my parent’s shock, I would wake up at 8 am willingly, to get ready to go to my best friend’s house, where I would stay over for the weekend. 

Sylvia and I went to a small primary school in the suburbs where our friendship began in grade one. Sylvia was born to a Chinese father and a Chinese-German mother, and I instantly connected with her “third culture kid” experience growing up in Australia.

I was born in Australia to parents from Singapore and grandparents from India. Based on my skin tone, thick black hair and brown eyes, the majority of people who assume I’m Indian are correct. However, it was people’s assumptions about what being Indian means that often grated me. 

According to the world around me, Indian girls are: the spelling bee champions of their primary school, the overachievers in high school who spend their lunchtimes studying in the library, the “good” girls who don’t talk to boys or go to parties, the girls who are raised in strict households by parents who had an arranged marriage. Oh, and of course, all brown girls live and breathe Bollywood. 

It felt like these assumptions from strangers were permanently tethered to my identity, making me feel like I was “boxed-in” as a person, adding to the pressure to conform. Because if I didn’t - was I really Indian then?

It felt like these assumptions from strangers were permanently tethered to my identity, making me feel like I was “boxed-in” as a person, adding to the pressure to conform. Because if I didn’t - was I really Indian then?

Society has programmed so many of us into the mindset of “box-fitting”: the concept that we must adhere to a specific set of values, beliefs and appearances in order to fit into our identity. But what this “box-fitting” method fails to account for is the numerous discrepancies between the stereotypical identity you are born into and your chosen identity.

It was my childhood best friend, Sylvia, who helped me unlearn this mindset. 

Each time Saturday morning rolled around and my Dad dropped me off at Sylvia’s house, sleepover bag in-hand, it felt like I was leaving behind all of the assumptions of what it means to be “an Indian girl”. It was a temporary portal between my Australian-Indian upbringing and Sylvia’s Australian-Chinese-German world.  

Lunchtimes were one of my favourite parts of our sleepovers. While we set her dining room table with chopsticks, bowls and plates, Sylvia’s Mum would emerge from the aroma-filled kitchen having just prepared the most delicious spread. 

Thinly-sliced meats, leafy green vegetables, fish balls, steamed dumplings, noodles and so much more - each time I stayed over at Sylvia’s, I was introduced to a new ingredient, a new meal, and new stories about their family. Soon, the dinner table became a place to share their Chinese-German heritage and culture with me. 

Soon, the dinner table became a place to share their Chinese-German heritage and culture with me. 

But it wasn’t just the food. Sylvia’s family also offered me a chance to be surrounded by all the languages they spoke, watch the TV shows they loved and read the books they valued. After breakfast, on most of my visits, Sylvia and I would rush downstairs to the living room to watch episodes of Sailor Moon. She was the first person to introduce me to anime and I fell in love with it instantly. Sylvia and I would often discuss which of the show’s lead characters we resembled and I instantly saw her as ‘Ami’ - Sailor Mercury, who was the “brains” of the group, known for her kindness and calm, level-headed approach to everything. I saw a lot of my own personality in ‘Usagi’ - Sailor Moon, on the basis that anything could make me cry and I was often distracted by sweet foods. 

Despite coming from vastly different worlds and having distinct personality traits, my friendship with Sylvia helped me realise that my identity was so much more than what people saw on the surface. 

It was made up of the meals I shared with her family, the Sailor Moon marathons, the manga books she lent me, our trips to the local library, her teaching me to ride a bike - all of these experiences we shared together have shaped my identity today. 

Because of that era of my childhood, I would more likely watch an anime film over a Bollywood hit; I’m constantly looking for the next dumpling fix, and Brisbane’s Asian food capital Sunnybank feels more like a second home to me than any Indian community here. 

Because of that era of my childhood, I would more likely watch an anime film over a Bollywood hit; I’m constantly looking for the next dumpling fix, and Brisbane’s Asian food capital Sunnybank feels more like a second home to me than any Indian community here. 

When someone first hears that I am Indian, I don’t want them to immediately associate my upbringing with spicy curries and dazzling sarees. My identity transcends far beyond these things. I’m a fruit salad with all the other diverse people of Australia - one big toss-up of unique identities and personalities. Saying that I am Australian, Singaporean and Indian doesn’t really begin to cover it.

Having drifted apart from Sylvia after we attended different high schools, I have not forgotten how, all those years ago, she was the one to bring me out of my cultural ‘box’. Much like a jigsaw puzzle, Sylvia helped me reassemble my identity, piece by piece, and showed me that I am the sum of all the cultures that have nourished and influenced me. 

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