The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Humans of Harker: Spice of life

Sydney Ling finds her own voice through amplifying others’
Claire Zhao
“Everyone has something to offer, something interesting about their lived experiences. That in itself sparks a connection that you have with different people. I’ve received so many messages about how people feel like their voice is represented with their work when it’s spotlighted, and how they’ve been engaging with the work we’re putting out. That’s my proudest moment,” Sydney Ling (12) said.

One pandemic can change a lot for an Asian-American teenage girl yearning for change. Nearly four years ago, Sydney Ling (12) sat at her desk, pondering the issues within her community as her eyes darted back and forth between eye-catching graphics in a mixed media magazine. As a rising ninth grader in what seemed like the era of capital B boredom, how was she going to leave an impact on the world around her? How could she create a community space transcending herself as an individual? What about her own voice? 

Little did she know, she would find all these questions and more in the very same location four years later. Only this time, she thumbed through the first colored print issue of Rice and Spice — her own independently-established magazine featuring Asian-American youth across the country. 

Rice and Spice forms a community of people who are very different, but we’re all bonded by the fact that we’re Asian-American,” Sydney said. “We’re forming a dialogue by putting our work out there, about what being Asian-American means and what Asian-American representation can look like in creative fields and media. It’s a really magical experience.”

An avid pop culture and film enthusiast, Sydney created Rice and Spice to bridge gaps between various cultures, generations, genders, backgrounds and regions. The online and print magazine offers a wide range of mediums, primarily writing, artwork, photos and videos. Its first issue, released in the winter of 2021, included 110 pages of works from over 50 contributors.

“Everyone has something to offer, something interesting about their lived experiences,” Sydney said. “That in itself sparks a connection that you have with different people. I’ve received so many messages about how people feel like their voice is represented with their work when it’s spotlighted, and how they’ve been engaging with the work we’re putting out. That’s my proudest moment.”

Sydney’s inspiration for Rice and Spice came from her dabbling in creative writing opportunities. At writing programs and workshops, she met diverse groups of people with various styles and ideas, which encouraged her to experiment with a wider creative range. This, and the growing popularity of independent zines during the pandemic, led her to establish Rice and Spice.

“I really like having control over something and owning it, and I’d also been more involved in Asian-American representation, consuming a lot of that media and literature,” Sydney said. “So, I was like, ‘Why don’t I combine these two?’”

Close friend Katherine Fields (12) hears the valuable opinions that Sydney shares on a daily basis. She admires Sydney for her authenticity to everyone around her, especially when it comes to her magazine.

“Sydney really takes action to say what she has to say and do what she wants,” Katherine said. “She forms great connections with all of her teachers because she speaks her mind in class, and if someone says something in our friend group that she agrees with or doesn’t agree with, she always has her voice.”

The establishment of Rice and Spice wasn’t a linear journey. At a New York event, one publicist criticized the magazine, accusing Sydney and her team members of being naive and ungrateful. Still, the team of adolescents stood strong and continued pushing forward.

“When you’re a young creative in the industry, some people look down on you because of your age or lack of experience, but it’s understandable that you might not get the same opportunities as someone who’s been in the industry for a long time,” Sydney said. “The way that my team members rallied around each other and weren’t super shaken by that was memorable, too.”

But even with the occasional negative experience, Sydney feels the importance of acknowledging the impact of her work. Along with her team members, she’s thankful for her mom, who supports her throughout her ups and downs and reminds her of the lengths of her accomplishments.

“My mom told me, ‘The fact that you have been doing this as a 17-year-old Asian-American girl is already really impressive in itself, and it’s something that you should be proud of,’” Sydney said. “It was a great, meaningful reminder of the work I’ve done every day and how difficult it is. When you’re wrapped up in your own mind, you forget about that.”

Outside of Rice and Spice, Sydney further devotes time to shape her own creative identity through journalism and issues of representation. She strives to educate and move; unite and illuminate; one deliberate step at a time.

“My mom told me, ‘You really need to know how to write, because when you’re a child of immigrants and a girl, it’s important to get your voice out there,’” Sydney said. “With journalism and media, it’s a way for me to contribute my voice and also cognizantly think about what communities of people need in their lives, through stories.”

Close friend Serena Janny (12) appreciates Sydney’s introspective views on everything she interacts with. Whether it pertains to school, life or just her favorite TV shows, Sydney always has her own thoughts to offer.

“Sydney is very intuitive and good at seeing points that other people would miss,” Serena said. “With all of the stuff that she does, it takes a lot of insightfulness. She always has really interesting takes on so many different things, and that’s what makes her personality.”

For those interested in pursuing their own passion projects, Sydney emphasizes the importance of having a vision in mind and following through with it. Even when meeting people at film festivals and concerts, for instance, she notices the sense of connection that her community creates.

“People empathized with what I was doing because they saw that I had a passion for what I was doing and that I had a mission in mind and values in what I wanted to do,” Sydney said. “A lot of times people will [message] us and be like, ‘Hey, your work is really cool, can we be mutuals, or talk, or hop on a call?’ At different events, we’ll talk about the work we do, and these little interactions have been really inspiring.”

Upper school history teacher Donna Gilbert was one of the many individuals who watched Sydney’s creativity blossom over the years. Besides assuming her role as Sydney’s adviser, Gilbert also taught her twice, in AP European History as well as AP Art History. Throughout the years, Sydney’s ability to make the most incisive observations and honest assessments stood out to Gilbert.

“Sydney is a fantastic student; she is curious, and insightful, and intrinsically interested in learning,” Gilbert said. “There’s nothing extrinsic about it. She’s not looking to get some results. She’s just invested in it. That’s very cool.”

So what happens when you give an opinionated, curious, creative teenager the opportunity to shine –– not only for herself, but also for others? Sydney knows how to answer that question, and many more. 

“I want to be remembered as someone who formed this community and had a lot of passion for my work,” Sydney said. “That’s what’s really core to Rice and Spice. I really like the dialogue — not just putting your voice out there, but the dialogue of different people’s voices coming together in a different way. That has been an involvement of me learning how to put my own voice out there and now learning how to uplift other people’s voices.”

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About the Contributor
Claire Zhao, Co-STEM Editor
Claire Zhao (11) is the co-stem editor for Harker Aquila and the Winged Post, and this is her third year on staff. This year, Claire hopes she can get to know everyone on the journalism staff and make her interviews more conversational and open. In her free time, she likes doing photography, collecting cute stationery and ranting about her favorite media.

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