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Princess Punzalan: Leaving her comfort zone to pursue her passion

This story is published in partnership with So Janelle TV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America.

As a young girl, Princess Punzalan dreamt of becoming a doctor. Instead, she followed the advice of her mother, Helen Vela, who was famous for giving sound advice to the lonely, confused, or brokenhearted in her weekly TV show. 

Despite not pursuing her passion after high school (“I didn’t have the guts to fight for what I wanted”), Punzalan graduated from her interior design course with honors. But the passion in her heart to help people in need never faded, and she found her way to the medical field by becoming a hospice nurse in California.

The role is farthest from make-believe as Princess plays a crucial role in giving comfort to a lot of people who are facing the inevitable in all of our lives – death.

“As a hospice nurse I would like to help people have a comfortable ending. I’m not squeamish about death. I’ve seen a lot of people nearing death with so much fear and anxiety,” said Punzalan, who had gained fame in the Philippines as an actress, beginning in the 1980s, appearing in television shows like Mula sa Puso and the film of the same name.

But Princess thinks she has that gift to make people comfortable and be grateful for what is still there and help people realize the important things about life.

“I’m comfortable with death. I know for a fact life has a beginning, and it has an end.

For now, Princess is in the middle. After many “wrong decisions” in the past, she moved to the US in 2005. She moved for the sake of love.

“We moved to Michigan because my husband was really born and raised there and he was in school,” said Punzalan. “I was in my mid-30s. By that time I think I was mature already, and I wasn’t attached to what I have.” 

“I am not attached to what I have because I know that as long as I have enough to live, I’m not difficult to be with. I’m not hard to please. I can live very simply because we came from a simple life.”

Punzalan was very recognizable in the Philippines, but she was willing to trade it all for the life she wanted.

Lessons from her mother helped Punzalan with that major transition, Punzalan recounted in an interview with Fil-Am media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins for the So Jannelle TV show.

When she first began her acting career, her mom would always tell her not to let the success get to her head. 

“It’s all temporary. Just think that you’re just a worker, you’re just working. Just so happened that acting is your job and many people notice you, but just treat it as your job,” Punzalan shared.

Her mom also raised her and her siblings not to boss people around. “So even when I had a PA (production assistant) in the Philippines, I didn’t always ask people to do things for me. It helped me adjust to life here in America, to do everything by yourself, even being a carpenter or a plumber,” said Punzalan.

However, she admitted to having a hard time adjusting to speaking in English all the time.

“I wasn’t used to not hearing Tagalog a lot because the area we moved into was predominantly white,” said Punzalan, who said she didn’t subscribe to Filipino television channels in America. What helped her get her Tagalog fix was social media networks – Friendster was the popular site at the time – where she could communicate with friends and family.

Punzalan also shared her struggles about missing Filipino food. There were few Filipino restaurants in Michigan where Punzalan lived for 3 years with her husband and daughter. “I left everything because I wanted to prioritize our marriage,” said Punzalan. “It was not my mindset to be in America and be an actor. I had to be with him. I can’t start my marriage going to New York or Los Angeles.”

When uncertainty crept in, and she had to look elsewhere for guidance, Punzalan always found it in the familiar places she had looked in the past.

“I’ve gone through a lot, not everyone that went through pain will come out of it learning the nuggets of wisdom that came along from the experience, because some people choose to look the other way,” said Punzalan.

“But again because of my mom. She’s a deep person and growing up hearing her give advice to people helped me find direction.

“And besides that I have a deep relationship with God. I mean it’s nothing religious or anything, it’s just something personal that I draw strength from Him.” – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

Check out So Jannelle TV  daily for stories that make you pause, reflect, and appreciate who we are and what we are as a people. 

Fridays, 5 PM on KSCITV-LA18
Saturdays, 7:30 PM PT on ANC
Sundays, 3:55 PM PT / 6:55PM ET on TFCOr any time on YouTube.com/SoJannelleTV