Meet the Filipino Grandmas Making It Big on TikTok
“Despite my age, I am still dancing and moving about with much energy. I still perform by singing and dancing to my heart’s content,” 88-year-old Emma De Lara told VICE.
De Lara, who is based in Mandaue, a city in the southern province of Cebu, loves to sing and dance, but it was her daughter and granddaughter who suggested she start doing so on TikTok.
De Lara’s granddaughter, Gabrielle Villarmino, said they were all bored at home during the pandemic, so she thought it would be fun to take videos of her grandmother.
De Lara now has over 14,000 followers and nearly 123,000 likes for videos of her dancing ballroom classics like the cha-cha-cha and grooving to pop hits such as Rude Boy by Rihanna and Teenage Dream by Katy Perry.
But many in this new breed of senior influencers aren't here for internet fame.
“At my age, I don’t need to get famous or show off,” said 72-year-old Marylyn Bonifacio.
Perhaps like many other people on the app, Bonifacio hesitated a bit before joining. “I was shy because I was old,” she said, but she eventually gave in because of encouragement from her 14-year-old grandchild.
Bonifacio, who is based in Pampanga, a province north of Manila, now has over 490,000 followers and around 4.7 million likes on TikTok. With her grandchild’s help, she keeps up with the latest trends, duets and stitches the funniest videos, and goes live to chat with her followers. In a recent video now with over 430,000 views, Bonifacio is dressed and made up as the giant doll from Netflix’s Squid Game, copying the doll’s creepy head turn complete with robotic red eyes.
Bonifacio is unsure about why her videos are such a hit on TikTok, where many users are closer in age to her grandchild.
“I just stay true to myself, I guess that’s what they like,” she said, adding that making TikTok videos has helped her destress from the pandemic and even feel healthier.
Erlinda De Vera, who’s also based in Pampanga, has over 190,000 followers and 1.8 million likes on TikTok. The 70-year-old takes pride in spotting trends and making her own versions of them. In one video, she is seen emotionally lip-syncing a Filipino love song to her husband while she’s holding a near-empty bottle of what looks like local liquor.
“It’s all me. I tell my husband, ‘Come, let’s dance,’ and he just follows,” she said, laughing.
De Vera’s first TikTok video was shot on her grandchild’s phone, but she soon got her own phone and continued to use the app by herself.
“Now I just do TikTok and more TikTok, and I’m happy,” she said.
While she’s enjoying the entertainment and attention the internet brings, De Vera said she’s had a brush with its darker side, too, and recalled receiving a hate comment that called her “gaga,” meaning a foolish woman.
“It’s hurtful,” she said. De Vera prefers comments that lovingly call her a “crazy lola.”
“I really like it when they say that,” she said. “It’s a happy comment.”
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