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The Pinoy Grandma that ticks on TikTok

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 28, 2023 5:00 am

They have been referred to as “grandfluencers,” grandmothers and grandfathers who mock time by being social media superstars, especially on TikTok. They go viral without scandal, just by being what they are in the eyes of their grandchildren.

“TikTok has become a bridge between two unlikely generations,” notes “The collaborative videos not only generate extra income, but also strengthen the relationship between grandchild and grandparent—and, who knows, might even boost grandma’s life expectancy.”

Grandkids, who usually make stars out of their lolasnonnas or grandmas by producing videos (from cooking, to life coaching, to sharing jokes) about them that attract sponsors, are also helping them in their twilight years. They are their grandparents’ managers.

With grandson Jeffrey Juarez

During a recent Globus tour of Spain and Portugal, my son Chino whispered to me while in the bus, “Mom, do you know that there is a TikTok superstar with us?”

I immediately looked around to see if either Antonio Banderas or Ana de Armas was on board. “She’s the famous Filipino grandma,” Chino told me while I rubber-necked. “She has 1.6 million followers on TikTok.”

(From left): Nilda Salvaleon, Vangie Wajeeuddin, Myra DeAmario, Luchie Mendoza, Nora Sangalang, the author, Beth Juarez, Aileen Juarez, Mary Ann Noblesala and Reggie Salvaleon during a farewell dinner hosted by Globus at a restaurant in Alfama, Lisbon after an eight-day tour of Spain and Portugal.

Finally, I got to know more the grandma who has gone viral on TikTok during the group’s farewell dinner in Lisbon. Nora Capistrano Sangalang, 80, hardly looks like the octogenarian that she is. Well-coiffed, poised and with a winsome smile, she looks like a grandma of the new millennium to me: Hindi tumatanda. Funny without trying hard to be funny.

Nora graduated with a degree in Foreign Service and once worked at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Padre Faura. She migrated to the US with her husband, then an assistant surgeon, and their three children including Beth Juarez and Myrah DeAmario, who were with us on the tour. She is called “Mama” even by her grandchildren, including 27-year-old Jeffrey Juarez, who is the creative mind behind Mama Nora’s viral videos.

The pandemic was also a time for many audiences to seek the comfort of grandma’s cooking, her sage advice, and her funny (if sometimes green) jokes on social media.

“Mama is our Filipino grandma…she is everyone’s TikTok/Internet/Filipino grandma who will always ask if you’re hungry, will always want to feed you, and will love you unconditionally,” says Jeff of his Mama Nora’s popularity. Indeed, that is what a grandma is like — you’re always too thin for her.

‘Our Filipino Grandma’

Jeffrey came up with the concept of “Our Filipino Grandma” during the pandemic.

“After eight months of trying everything under the sun (dancing, Filipino comedy, family pranks, any trends, really), I realized that I needed to ‘niche down’ and decided to start another account for Mama, because her videos were the ones that always got a lot of views!” recalls Jeffrey.

“Her food is amazing, her laugh is contagious, and she inspires me to live authentically and to be my best self because she is so, unapologetically, ‘Mama’.”

@ourfilipinograndma #answer to @Celpone is layp😶 this will always be funny 😂 #grannygotgame #pickupline #funny #help #lifealert #repost #🇵🇭👵🏽 ♬ original sound - Mama 🇵🇭👵🏽

Mama Nora has more non-Filipino followers than Filipino, though she has a legion of followers among her kababayans, too.

“They love the way she delivers ‘pick-up lines’,” says her niece Reggie Salvaleon. It’s like giving millennials a tutorial. (Reggie’s 88-year-old mother Nilda is a superstar herself, a jetsetter still at the age of 88.)

For example: “Are you not a photographer”

“No. Why?”
“Because I can picture us together!”
“Can you call 911?”
“Because you make my heart skip a beat!”
“Are you a construction worker?”
“Because you have a dump truck behind you!” 

Imagine a grandma saying these with feeling! Then she punctuates the punchline with her trademark thumb and forefinger sign under her chin. So bagets.

Once, Mama Nora thought she had a stalker who was taking her photos as she was walking and when she turned around, the “stalker” said, “Aren’t you the Filipino grandma?” Mama Nora was thrilled.

Even when boarding planes and the airline staff see her name, they exclaim, “You’re the Filipino grandma!”

@ourfilipinograndma Replying to @___someperson___ no i’m your tiktok grandma ❤️👵🏽 dc: @Krithi Srinivas #swag #dance #grandma #rizzler #🇵🇭👵🏽 ♬ Pretty Boy Swag - Soulja Boy

Mama Nora also has the moves. She exercises and dances. She also acts out episodes typical to many who have kids or grandkids: She excitedly fixes up dinner for you then you tell her you’ve eaten. Her reaction launches a thousand “Awwws,” as familiar to Pinoys as adobo.

Mama Nora is that grandma many millennials and post-millennials rediscovered during the lockdown. Usually, this reconnecting happened in homes where grandparents live with their children and grandchildren.

Perhaps, grandparents were loved ones they may have just greeted, kissed the hand of, but never fully got acquainted with, or appreciated as much, because of the hectic lives they all lived pre-pandemic. Then the world came to a stop. During the lockdown, grandchildren had dinner practically every day with their parents, lolasnonnas and grandmas because they had no choice — and inadvertently unearthed gems in them that were still full of sparkle and shine. 

The pandemic was also a time for many audiences to seek the comfort of grandma’s cooking, her sage advice, and her funny (if sometimes green) jokes on social media. It was like having comfort food, a soft pillow to hug, a warm hand to hold, on TikTok.

TikTok grandmas and grandpas show us age is truly just a number. And that sometimes — our moves even do get better with age.

Right, Mama Nora?