I'm a mosaic of memories and it makes up for my South Asian identity

Nicole Marie Valdez holding a camera

My take on the TikTok Mosaic Challenge. 

By Nicole Marie Valdez, Contributor

Can you recall your earliest memory? I was four years old, and it was the early 2000’s. I remember these moments vividly: eating my favorite foods, chicken shawarma and biryani; playing with my mixed-race friends in a place filled with diversity; listening to Shakira songs, like Ojos Así and Whenever, Wherever, that were constantly playing on the radio. I remember feeling delighted every time I saw colorful lights up for Diwali.

Growing up, I lived between Dubai and the Philippines. Dubai was a sleepy city before it took the world by storm, and so far, it has no signs of slowing down. It was the city I grew up in — a city so diverse and welcoming. Although today, Dubai is known for its skyscrapers and man-made tourist spots, the old and new culture breathes together like two sets of lungs, and the beating heart is right at the center of the city. 

Yes, places like these can set waves of nostalgia in me every time I go back there from the Philippines, but 

What I can remember most is not the picturesque sights of the city, but the kind faces and experiences that I still carry with me at the age of 23.

Nicole Marie Valdez in her Kindergarten class
My kindergarten class

There's a trend on Tiktok called the Mosaic Challenge.

What drew me to the TikTok Mosaic Challenge is how wholesome and heartwarming it is: each person is made up of memories and experiences, like a mosaic. All of these details are tied together, making up who you are and who you've become as a person.

I'm a Filipino of South Asian descent, and I would hear my grandmother tell stories of her parents. 

They hail from India and Germany, and she’d tell me about how they settled in the Philippines. Her mother had blue eyes from her German roots, and her father had distinct features, like his nose and deep-set eyes. She would lament that the rest of her siblings didn't get her mother's eyes but her father's traits instead. 

They may not look Filipino, but they alone are a mosaic of cultures and identities — just like me. 

Every time I eat soft-boiled eggs, I would remember Aunty Shivani. She would cook me soft-boiled eggs and make me BournVita milk just like she would for her son Rohan. She taught me how to drive. She would fondly tell me stories about how she misses Sri Lanka.

Every time I see a beautiful amethyst ring, I would get upset over losing the ring Uncle Naveen gave me for my birthday. Mom said the stone in the ring was precious since it came from Nepal.

Nicole Marie Valdez and her uncle Naveen
Uncle Naveen and I 

My favorite part of doing makeup is my eyes; I love accentuating them. I learned to love traditional Indian dresses like sarees and lehengas, because Aunty Chiarini looks so beautiful in them. She would give me beauty tips on how to look even more glowing.

I would always do my best in school since Ma'am Chitra believed in me so fiercely, way back in fourth grade. She congratulated me when I announced that I'm graduating college and pursuing my dreams as a writer.

Just like the Mosaic Challenge, I dug into myself and looked back on all the memories. One by one, 

I silently made an ode to the people who have shown me kindness and learned that regardless of race, kindness is a universal language. 

Unfortunately, memories can be forgotten. In the case of my beautiful and strong-willed grandmother, she can no longer recall specifically where her family came from, at the age of 81. She sometimes forgets the little things due to aging. 

I tried to ask her about her family now that I'm older, because I want to hear those stories again and hopefully, in the future, reconnect with our relatives. But unfortunately, she can no longer recall the place of her ancestors. All she can remember was that her father came from a poor district in India, a city that starts with the letter “P”. Once, I tried to scour the internet to recall her memory and what she used to tell me, but it's hidden successfully in her mind.

Nicole Marie Valdez and her grandmother
My grandmother and I 

For the longest time, I struggled with my identity. 

Living back and forth between two different countries, I didn't know where I belonged. But slowly, as I mature and my coming of age phase has finally waned, I now accept the reality that I can never be just one, and I don't have to choose. 

Every time I see my family feasting on chicken biryani or watching Bollywood movies, I know that we're quietly making an ode to our history and how it never fades in our identities — even if we don’t speak Hindi or other South Asian languages.

I can embrace all the parts of me and other people's memories. I will never forget them and how they impacted me.


About — Nicole Marie Valdez is a seasoned writer and editor. She is dedicated to being salt and light to the earth through her words. Nicole loves to read 18th-century books, write poetry and talk about history. In addition, she is an advocate for mental health and animal welfare. When she's not working, she's rewatching Pride and Prejudice and busy being a fur mom.

Cover photo credit: Nicole Marie Valdez, @thegirlwhowrites08 


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