Angelica Lynn Rose grew up in Garner, Iowa. She is the daughter of a woman who grew up on an Iowa farm near Tripoli, Iowa and a man who was a native of Guam. Her father was drafted while attending the University of Guam and served two years in Vietnam. Following his tour of duty, he came to live with a sister in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was there he met his wife, a nurse's aid, while he was a patient in a Cedar Rapids hospital. Angelica is the oldest of three girls born to this marriage.
Angela Atalig's Iowa grandparents were against the marriage, and her parents endured five years of being shunned by the family. The arrival of Angelica, the first grandchild, broke the family dissention. Soon everyone including aunts and uncles joined in celebrating her arrival.
Atalig describes travelling to Guam to visit her grandparents while she was a high school sophomore. In addition to learning the preparation of many foods new to her, she observed traditions such as traveling fiestas. She found the people of Guam much more accepting of her family than the people of Iowa.
While a student at the University of Iowa, Atalig became involved with many international students. When asked why she tended to date international men, she stated that she liked learning about a variety of cultures and took great interest in language study. In discussing her travels in many countries she pointed out which societies were accepting and which seemed to discriminate. For instance, in Germany people thought she was from Turkey and treated her as an outcast.
After earning degrees in sociology and psychology at the University of Iowa, she worked as a residential officer at an Iowa correctional facility.