East Meadow grandma is TikTok well-known, because of grandson
East Meadow’s 78-year-old grandma looks at the camera with a teacup in hand.
“I thought ‘happiness’ started with an ‘h’,” she says. “But mine … starts with ‘u’.”
Grandma is Leonora “Nora” Sangalang – “Mama” as her family calls her – grandmother of six and star of the viral @ourfilipinograndma Tik Tok and Instagram accounts, which together have nearly 1 million followers around the world.
Sangalang is dancing. She works in the kitchen. She is taking part in the latest TikTok challenge. Some of the videos are spontaneous, but most were written by her grandson and manager Jeffrey Juarez, who wrote the nine-part and counting #GrannyGotGame series.
(You didn’t really think these pickup lines were the brainchild of an ecclesiastical Septuagenarian Roman Catholic matriarch who met her 52-year-old husband in high school, did you?)
The accounts were created by Juarez, 25, who started making internet videos from his job as a financial analyst in Manhattan shortly after vacationing at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. His grandma happened to be in some of them – and those were the most popular. So he accounted for her as a star in December.
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“She gets so many messages and comments where she just says, ‘Oh, you remind me so much of my mom or my grandma,'” Juarez said in an interview. “Like ‘She died X years ago and it really makes me feel like she is still with us’ or ‘I have a feeling if my grandma lived during that time, she would be the same.’ “”
Filipino grandma Leonora Sangalang is a TikTok / Instagram star. East Meadow, NY (Monday May 24, 2021) Photo credit: Howard Simmons
In those early videos, Sangalang recalled in an interview, she was wearing house clothes and hadn’t dressed to face the camera because she didn’t know it would be her.
“I said, ‘Oh my god, why did you do this? Look at me!'” She said.
Now she said, “If he wants me to do videos, he’ll ask me to get ready and of course I’ll prepare.”
Sangalang’s videos are mainly played in the family home, but also took place in Eisenhower Park, the local Lidl supermarket, and in computer-generated scenes such as the dentist and a TED lecture.
In another viral video, Sangalang whistles to signal breakfast, prepares the pot, and Juarez jumps out of bed and appears to be flying up the stairs to join.
Some of the most popular videos are the #GrannyGotGame series, in which Sangalang praises conversation openers with a hip-hop rimshot.
(Not that she needs them in real life: Sangalang met her husband Rimberto, also 78, in their home Philippines. The family has lived in the US since the 1980s and on Long Island since 1998. Rimberto wants to return to the Philippines, but the couple stays in the United States because he is sick and needs dialysis.)
Sangalang’s worldwide fame has resonated locally – half of its supporters are in the United States – and the global balance, Juarez said. Their viral accounts have been published on BuzzFeed, CNN and other international outlets.
Sangalang said she was surprised how popular the videos had become.
In April, two blocks from the family home, Sangalang was picking up blood pressure medication at a CVS pharmacy when a worker called her by name. Sangalang thought the recipe was ready, but it was just someone who knew her from TikTok.
“‘We’re fans of your TikTok,'” Sangalang said, the worker told her. “I said, ‘Oh my god,'” Sangalang recalled.
The worker added that she said, “Any more videos? We’ll watch this.”
From then on, when she went to this CVS, she was greeted with, “How is the celebrity?”
And later that month the surprise came when the Miller Place High School field hockey team asked their granddaughter to meet Sangalang, and then several members of the group asked if they could take a picture together. They did.
“‘We love you. We love you, Grandma,'” Sangalang remembered them saying. “I said, ‘Oh my god.'”
Sangalang says she loves being a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to her younger relatives.
“They all love me because I love them. It’s nice to feel like you’re a grandmother with your children and grandchildren,” she said.
Juarez said the report was clearly influenced by the family’s Filipino roots – Sangalang speaks Tagalog in some videos while she does a viral Filipino dance called Otso Otso in others – but her appeal is universal.
“You don’t have to be a Filipino to fall in love with the account or be a fan of our videos,” he said.
Matthew Chayes, a Newsday reporter since 2007, covers New York City Hall.