Hollywood celebrities

Vanessa Hudgens opens up about her first visit to the Philippines

Amanda T. Lago

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Vanessa Hudgens opens up about her first visit to the Philippines

Fil-Am actress Vanessa Hudgens answers questions from the media during a press conference at the Manila House at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig on March 31, 2023. Hudgens, known for her starring roles in "High School Musical" and "The Princess Switch," is visiting the country to film a travel documentary, which will delve into her family history and Filipino roots. As a Global Tourism Ambassador, Hudgens will take part in a range of future initiatives to promote the Philippines' unique culture and assist the country in reaching a wider global audience, creating awareness and conveying the Philippine brand as a tourist destination.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

She also talks about doing projects in the country, and shares her struggles as a Fil-Am actress in Hollywood

MANILA, Philippines – Ever since her breakout role in the hit teen film High School Musical in 2006, Vanessa Hudgens has always been popular among Filipinos, who took pride in her Filipino-American heritage.

However, despite being known as a Fil-Am actress, Vanessa, 34, visited the Philippines for the first time only this March, traveling with her sister Stella and their Filipina mother, Gina. So far, the actress has shared photos from Palawan, where she swam in the province’s famous lagoons, did a morning hike, and went on a sunset cruise.

“It’s always been on my list, of course [visiting the Philippines], but it never happened,” Vanessa said at a press conference on Friday, March 31. 

“I don’t know. I feel like everything happens when it’s meant to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “I get to come here with my mom and my sister. This is the hub for family and I get to be here with my family.”

American upbringing

Vanessa said that she had a “very American” upbringing – “except for all the rice and pancit.” For her, visiting the Philippines as an adult has been “really beautiful and eye-opening.”

Being here has allowed her to realize that many aspects of her personality – from her family ties to her interest in the mystical – comes back to her Filipino heritage.

“All these things that have been just innately stuff within me, I’m realizing come from my heritage,” she said.

The actress shared that growing up, her mom talked a lot about Filipino family culture.

“It’s very much about the closeness of your family, how when someone gets married, they move into the family home. You don’t leave when you go to college, you don’t leave the house, you know, everybody sticks together,” she said.

“But like I didn’t really know much about the history and the lineage and like what the life was, honestly,” she admitted.

What prompted her to finally make her way to the Philippines? For Vanessa, it’s her plans to start a family.

“I’m in my 30s now. I’m thinking about raising a family and I wanna be able to like know my heritage so that I can bring that forth and so that my kids can know their background, they can know more about their own blood,” she said.

Philippines’ global tourism ambassador

Of course, another thing that brings Vanessa to the country is her upcoming travel documentary, whose working title is The Awakening. Directed by presidential creative communications advisor Paul Soriano, the film will take place in Palawan and Manila.

According to Vanessa, the film will focus on her getting in touch with her roots.

“It’s a really intimate look at my experience being in the Philippines for the very first time, really discovering this beautiful land and the wonderful people and just really getting in touch with the piece of myself that has always been there but I’ve never known intimately,” she said.

Despite it being her first time visiting the country, Vanessa was named global tourism ambassador for the Philippines, receiving the title from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at Malacañang Palace on March 30.

When asked about how she would describe the Philippines to people back in the United States, Vanessa said: “It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a lot of bit of everything. It’s got paradise, it’s got metropolitan city, it’s got kindness.”

She also spoke about the friendliness of Filipinos.

“The people here are very unique. Everyone is just so warm. I feel like I haven’t met anyone who seems like they’re having a bad day. The hospitality is unmatched. It’s got wonder, and it’s just a really magical place,” she said. 

She added that with all the things to do in the country, she is already looking forward to her next visit.

“I already can’t wait to come back. I feel like the time that I have spent here has been so incredible and so special, but I need more time,” she said.

“The country is so big and has so much to offer. I’m a big nature girl, big beach girl. There are so many beautiful beaches here that I still have to go to. I wanna go hang out with the tribes. There’s just so much to do. I haven’t even gone shopping,” she laughed.

Fil-Am in Hollywood

Vanessa also opened up about struggling to find her place as a Filipino-American in Hollywood, even as the scene is diversifying.

“As Hollywood is definitely diversifying, there are still very niche things that people are now leaning into. I remember I wanted to audition for a movie that I was very passionate about, a character that I always wanted to play, and I was told that I couldn’t because I wasn’t Black or Latina. And I was like…I mean I’m ethnic if that’s what you’re looking for!” she said.

“It’s hard, it really is. I think that I’m still out there trying to find where I fit in Hollywood but I think it is becoming more welcoming and becoming more colorful. So that’s all we can do, is continue to tell stories that we love and being included so that it does diversify,” she added.

She also said that she would be open to working on a film in the Philippines, saying: “It would be a wonderful excuse to be here. I’m trying to spend as much time as I can here now.” – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.