Children of Immigrants: Angela Dumlao — “Everything I love is in New York City”

Written by Aneta Molenda

Stories of immigration often leave out an important piece of the changing American landscape: the steadily growing number of second generation immigrants.

There are more than 20 million adults who are US-born children of immigrants. There are another 16 million under the age of 18. Their stories are particularly important in a place like New York City, often hailed as a mecca of diversity where cultures collide, collaborate, and create.

It is estimated that one out of every three children in large metropolitan areas has an immigrant parent. According to Pew Research population projections, second generation immigrants will account for 37 percent of the total US population if immigration flows and birth rates continue like the current trends.

Children of immigrants are uniquely positioned in the US, arguably with a foot in two different worlds — they often identify with their parents’ country of origin but also see themselves as Americans. Not only does this open up new worlds and intersecting identities, it also uncovers internal tensions around not being “enough” of one or the other. But by sharing the individual stories of second generation immigrants, we can help send an important message to everyone struggling with their dual identities — you are enough of both.

Angela Dumlao, a long-time New York resident and the daughter of first generation Filipino immigrants, knows what it’s like to live both within and adjacent to immigrant culture. Here, she talks about her experience as a second generation immigrant living in New York City and her process of cultural self-exploration.


You were born and raised in New York, and I’ve heard you often identify as Filipina-American, do you also identify as a New Yorker?

When I think “New Yorker,” I think New York City, and so that label has never really fit me. I was born in Brooklyn, moved to Long Island when I was one, then lived there through college. But I’ve been all over the place: I went to high school in Jamaica, Queens, college in Dutchess County, and now live in Harlem. So, when I’m out of town, I tell people that I’m from/live in New York City. [The term] “New Yorker” is a bit funny to me!


Have you ever lived anywhere other than New York? What makes this city special to you?

Everything I love is here. My friends, my family, theater, the queer community, the Filipino community. I am going to live in New York City for the rest of my life and I know that. The main thing that keeps me from moving anywhere else is that I won’t tolerate living anywhere less diverse than New York. I love how diverse New York City is and it makes me feel good, wanted, and safe — a feeling that many queers of color may not get to experience where they live.


Growing up, did your parents emphasize their roots or their stories from back home?

I’m not sure about their stories. My parents did want the American Dream for us, and therefore my siblings and I grew up very Americanized. But our roots were displayed in different ways: in my father’s home cooking, in the Filipino parties that we attended, and in the Tagalog spoken by my parents at home.


Do you speak Tagalog? Is there a language barrier with your family or community?

I don’t speak Tagalog, which puts me in a very odd place — similar to what I’ve heard a lot of first-generation Americans who do not speak their parents’ language feel: not only not being American enough for obvious reasons but also not being Filipino, or your own culture, enough. And so, I was never taught Tagalog and I think the reasoning behind that was so I would master English and do well in school.

My parents speak fluent English — English is the other official language of the Philippines, with Filipino — so there has never been a language barrier. But my parents will go back to speaking in Tagalog when talking to each other or with Filipino friends, which can be frustrating for me. Not knowing Tagalog put me in between worlds — not Filipino enough but also not American enough.


Do you ever want to learn to speak Tagalog?

I recently saw an awesome play in New York City called “House Rules” by A. Rey Pamatmat that dealt with this topic within Filipino families. It inspired me to try to at least learn some conversational Tagalog. I’ve been following The Filipino School of New York and New Jersey online for a bit and it just may be time to take the leap to sign up for classes.


Why do you feel it’s important for second generation immigrants to embrace immigrant identity?

I’m very proud of my identity as a first-generation American. So much of the right wing narrative talks down about immigrants and it infuriates me. Unlike my queerness and gender, my immigrant identity is not immediately obvious — my brown skin signals that I’m a minority but not necessarily from a family of immigrants. I am loud and proud about it to encourage other people to be as well. We need to challenge the narrative of “what an immigrant is.” Heck, Trump put the Philippines on a list of countries he’d like to bar immigrants from [read about it here]. If this happened in the 1980s, my parents would have never been able to come to America. I wouldn’t have been born.


You’re also a theater artist and an activist — how do your intersectional identities influence your work?

My identity is my work. I only work on theater that speaks towards my identity and specific stories highlighting and raising up the voices of the oppressed and marginalized. My experiences color how I direct, what choices I make, who I work with.


Angela has been involved in theater, including directing an award-winning play called Post Traumatic Super Delightful about a community trying to heal after a sexual assault. Read more about Angela’s work here.

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