At the 2017 San Francisco Trans March
|Born||1977/1978 (age 40–41)
|Residence||New York City, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Berklee College of Music|
|Notable credit(s)||When We Rise|
Early life and education
Aquino was born in the Philippines. She knew from a very young age that she was transgender, stating in a 2017 interview, “As soon as I was born, I was always a girl; I was just assigned differently at birth.” In her mid-teens, she started hormone therapy. She was often bullied at school, but her parents were supportive of her transition.
As a teenager, Aquino moved to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music, which she graduated from summa cum laude. She enrolled to study singing, thinking that there would be no acting roles for a transgender Filipina. But after having gender confirmation surgery in 2005 at the age of 26, Aquino decided to pursue her childhood dream of being an actor.
In 2015, Aquino performed the role of Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet in New York City with The Drilling Company’s Bryant Park Presents. Other stage roles she has played include Desdemona in Othello, Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, and Isabella in Measure for Measure, all with The Drilling Company’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot on the Lower East Side of New York.
Aquino was cast in the role of transgender activist Cecilia Chung for the 2017 docudrama miniseries, When We Rise. At the time she auditioned, she had played mostly cisgender roles, and was not open about being trans, as “There never was a reason to talk about it.” Aquino made sure to let series writer Dustin Black know that she was transgender, which helped her secure the part, as Black was specifically looking for trans actresses. She publicly came out as transgender during a January 2017 press conference for the series.
Aquino met with Chung in person to prepare for her part on When We Rise. They became friends; Aquino considers Chung to be a mentor and “older sister” figure in her life.