What are hybrid cultural practices?

As a first-generation migrant to Australia, I still adhere to cultural practices that I grew up with and am familiar with as that is what defines me as a person. After 20 years, it is hard not to mix or adapt my native cultural practices with new ones that I have picked up along the way as an Australian. While it would take a few generations to completely diffuse or change native cultural practices, I have always referred to these mixed cultural practices as ‘hybrid cultural practices’. 

Bringing up my girls alone in a foreign land is an arduous task. I am a hybrid myself and I know that I am not the same as other Indians in Melbourne only because I am a third-generation Singaporean-Indian who has grown up in both Singapore and Malaysia (speaking English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin) and I relate to being a Singaporean more than an Indian. (I am beginning to feel like a Singaporean-Indian-Australian but that is only when I use the barbeque in Spring!) If I didn’t introduce my cultural practices to my girls, they would eventually lose touch with their identity of having a Singaporean Indian parent and probably lose their connection to their identity of being Australian-Singaporean-Indians at some point (whatever the order maybe).

A story of hybrid culture practices.

Let me tell you how a typical first Sunday of each month pans out. My day starts at around 7.30 am. Before I start my morning exercise, I put the laundry in the machine. The timer on the machine tells me that it will take 50 minutes. I then get on my treadmill and walk for 20 to 25 mins at a very moderate speed, mentally ticking off the things that I have to do for the day. Once done with exercise,  put the kettle on and then start preparing a pancake mixture, adding water to the readymade mixture. I make around  6 pancakes depending on the amount of mixture I get.  Also, I make myself a cup of Dilmah Tea. I cover the hot pancakes, leave them on the table and run to wake my girls up, telling them they have 20 minutes before we leave!

I have stretched the truth about time once again, and I go take a shower, changing into a Kurti suit. Kurtis are colourful traditional Indian long blouses and matching printed baggy pants, bought by my mom from Singapore or India, and then head downstairs to check the laundry. By this time, I know that one child is in the shower (I hear music playing through the shower speaker). 

In the meantime, the laundry is done and I take it out to dry. Once the clothes are out on the lines, I start getting ready to leave. I finish doing my makeup and hair and go downstairs to the kitchen to see my girls dressed in their Kurtis and jeans, inspecting what is for breakfast.  

It is nearly 9.20 am 

I tell the girls that they can’t sit and eat and that they have to take their breakfast with them and have it on the way. One quickly spreads Nutella on her pancakes and holds them precariously as she walks to get her shoes, while the other puts her pancakes in a plastic Sandwich bag and pours maple syrup in, giving it a good shake! I fold my pancake, dip it into the tea and gobble it down quickly and gulp down the remaining tea as well. I then slip on my shoes and shoo the girls out of the house; the girls getting into the car with their shoes in one hand and their breakfast in the other. 

Once the girls have finished their breakfast and worn their shoes, a Spotify playlist called “Car tunes” comprising of Tamil and Hindi songs, from A.R Rahman, Anirudh, Hip Hop Tamizha, Eno Genga, Mikey Singh and Honey Singh, starts playing on shuffle mode, blasting my ears off from four corners within the SUV. We know most of these songs and we sing along at times and move to the music, bobbing our heads and tapping our hands, a family routine during long drives. When I pull up at the traffic lights, we remember that we are quite a spectacle for the other drivers. They gaze quizzically but we continue. 

Our destination

Siva Vishnu temple located at the Southeast of Melbourne, 45 minutes away. The first Sunday of each month, we try to go there to take part in the recital of Vishnu Sarasnamam – chants of 1008 names of Lord Vishnu, sang in Sanskrit by a devoted group of devotees. I came across this prayer session during the first few months in 2001 when I first arrived as a migrant in Melbourne. Now, 20 years down the road as a single mom, I make it a point to attend the prayer sessions with my two girls whenever possible; time, health and weather permitting.

Sense of belonging via cultural practices.

Language.

Giving the girls a sense of belonging to their roots via cultural practices is the main focus for me till today. I began sowing my seeds when they were really young. Lucky for me, they were six and three when I took on the role as a single parent in Melbourne and one of the first things I did was to ensure that Tamil is spoken at home. Given that English is my first language and my spoken Tamil is really colloquial since I didn’t learn to read and write the language at school, I struggled quite a bit initially. Despite that challenge, I made a point to speak in Tamil during dinner, shower, bedtimes, often referring to them as Chellam and Kannav. (terms of endearments equivalent to ‘darling’ and ‘honey’ – loosely translated).

When they were younger, we kept abreast with the latest hits from Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, but also the latest Tamil songs, which I purchased as CDs from the local Sri Lankan shops, during our car rides to school and monthly temple visits. I hummed to Tamil songs while cooking and watched Tamil/Hindi movies during my free time on Youtube or DVDs and included them as much as possible in these activities. I made a big deal (positive comments) about dressing for temples in traditional dresses and eating temple food, listening to the chants so that they understood the importance of these trips. Even though they were enrolled in Catholic schools, I taught them the ‘Gayathri Mantra’; a sacred Hindu vedic chant that describes the various aspects of creation at a very young age and also meditation techniques for them to fall back on as guidance in times of need.

Food.

Apart from language, I also cooked local Singaporean dishes at home very often, as we could not afford to eat out much being on one wage. Eating out is a very Singaporean thing to do which I felt really deprived of as a practice after moving to Melbourne. I ensured that I cooked as authentically as possible so that they knew the dishes by local names. Even before Instagram and Snapchat apps hit the world like rocks, I was posting pictures of my home cooked food. I cooked dishes like Nasi Lemak, and Mamak Mee Goreng. I steamed Idlis with chicken curry and made Malacca Nasi Minyak and Johore Bharu Soup Kambing (my grandma’s recipes). 

Today’s hybrid cultural youth.

The result of all these small efforts over ten years has resulted in two very vocal and aspiring Australian accented young ladies. They continue studying in Catholic school, embarrassed by their Singlish speaking mom, identifying with their Singaporean Indian roots through food and language. They drink Bubble tea and Nasi Lemak, belting out songs in Tamil and Hindi, and also keeping up with Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood actors/news. I hear them cheering loudly when South Indian actor Vijay comes on big screen and at the same time going completely gaga over Tom Holland when he appears in the Marvel Movies in Melbourne Cinemas! On the whole, they are well adjusted Australian-Singaporean-Indian teenagers who are comfortable and proud to embrace their hybrid cultural practices in multicultural Melbourne.

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hybrid cultural identities

Author: Puva Arumugam

Puva Arumugam is a Singapore born Indian playwright and poet who is currently living in Melbourne, Australia. She staged her plays in both Singapore and Australia in various Theatre festivals. Puva completed her PhD in Theatre and Cultural Studies. She has been an avid supporter of performing and creative arts for the past two and half decades. She is a full time single mother of two wonderful children. Her title is the Artistic and Creative Director at Gemz Creative Arts. It is a Melbourne based online platform to enhance creative talents within individuals. Puva has helped to publish two books by young authors under the age of ten. She works with many more children to have their creative works published.

Author: Teresa Couto

Teresa is a Junior Full Stack Marketeer at SPEAK. She loves playing volleyball and visit old libraries (the oldest, the better!). She may have a coffee addition problem and she likes to record random sounds in the street.

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