Teen mom pursues her dream to become an NYPD detective

Detective Velez is one of the speakers at the flag raising ceremony commemorating the 125th  anniversary of Philippine Independence. Behind her is Consul General Senen Mangalile. The FilAm photos

By Detective Angelica De Leon Velez

I stand here today because of my parents. Most Filipino households take pride in their children. My parents worked two jobs each to provide an amazing life for my sister and I. I can honestly say that I was my parents’ pride and joy up until the age of 16.

I played classical piano starting at the age of 5, received honor roll awards, merit awards, became one of the first females to be an altar server at my parish, volunteered as a candy striper at nursing homes and ultimately received scholarships for school.

One scholarship in particular was to attend a private all-girl high school that my parents dreamed of. All this and yet, I knew the system and I played it well. I was a rebellious teen and as long as I brought home good grades, I took it upon myself to hang out late and sometimes never come home. I made my parents’ lives hell.

Everything finally caught up to me in senior year of high school. I was 17, pregnant, just graduated high school and about to enter my first semester of college. I could not go to my first choice college because my son would be born in the middle of the semester. My parents were too distraught, disappointed and hurt to speak to me. My friendships dwindled because everyone was going away to college and I was alone.

I will never forget that cold December day, I went to the only place I felt safe which was my parish church. Ironically I saw my father there as well. It was here and that moment when I made amends and I promised  my family that no matter how hard it would be, I would continue my studies. Throughout all the ridicule my family endured of having a daughter that became a teen mom, they supported me. I was able to complete my nursing studies and get my license.

The saying we often hear, “It takes a village to raise a family”, well my village watched my son while I balanced a full-time job and attended classes. My family worked around their own work schedule to help raise my son while I worked as a nurse. It was an amazing experience but like the comedian Jo Koy says, this wasn’t my dream career. I loved being a nurse and I worked hard to achieve that goal. However unbeknownst to my family, I took the police exam a couple years prior. No one knew that my dream was to become a detective. When my investigator called me to ask if I was still interested in becoming a police officer, my mind said, “don’t do it” but my heart said, “hell yes”.

Philippine colors fly across Manhattan skyscrapers while FilAms sing the National Anthem ‘Lupang Hinirang.’

Let’s just say, my mom and dad were not initially thrilled with my career change. My parents would remind me that as a woman, especially being a Filipina, I would be a hard fit with the dynamic of the cop culture and be more of a liability in the streets than an asset. Their words were spoken out of tough love but I took it as a challenge. 

The first few years of my police career started in the housing developments of East Harlem, the South Bronx, East New York and Brownsville. A couple years later I worked my way to the Detective Bureau in Narcotics. Many of these places have never seen an Asian female cop before. Positive and negative comments alike were made but I took it as an opportunity to start a conversation and grow from it. Being born and raised in the city, I was able to connect with people and bridge that cultural gap. 

That is the amazing thing about Filipinos especially from New York City. No matter where they are, who they are with, and what circumstances they are in, we adapt. We make the best of our situations and continuously work to improve and be the best at what we do. We do it with a smile, regardless of what we’re feeling on the inside. I can test this theory anywhere. If you know or work with a Filipino, hands down they are foodies, love to laugh but get their job done. We are a people that love to serve and help others and will do it while having fun. 

Even though I did not grow up seeing Filipinos or aspects of my culture on any mainstream outlets, my family enriched us with our heritage merely by throwing big family parties filled with amazing food, participating in Santacruzan events, karaoke and line dancing at any social gathering, eating out at 69 Street in Woodside and the yearly parade here in Manhattan.

Fast forward to present day, I literally screamed yesterday when I saw a Jollibee in the heart of Times Square! Of course we had to stop and I introduced my coworkers to the Chickenjoy, and they loved it. 

Today, my children can turn on the TV, switch on the iPad or listen to music and can find an artist, a movie or show with someone that looks like them. Our society, though not always perfect, is evolving for the better because of the cumulative effort people bring to the table. People are appreciating each other’s cultures, communicating, sharing and learning from one another which will only strengthen the ingredients and fortify New York City’s melting pot. 

Dr. Jose Rizal who was a great Filipino hero stated, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” (He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination) Our Filipino people will only continue to move forward and positively impact our great city as long as we never forget where we came from and those who have brought us here to this point. 

Thank you for your time. Maraming salamat po, mag ingat po kayo lagi at mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

Speech delivered by Detective Angelica Velez at a flag-raising ceremony at Bowling Green, Manhattan to commemorate the 125th  anniversary of Philippine Independence.  She is a first-generation Filipino American, born and raised in Queens. Her father was a merchant marine and her mother a nurse. They emigrated from the Philippines in the early 1980s leaving behind their world for a piece of the “American Dream”.  

The event was graced by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Consul General Senen Mangalile and other dignitaries.

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