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Vanessa Hudgens Wants You To Know She’s Filipina — Not Latina, Like Her ‘HSM’ Character

Some may say Vanessa Hudgens’ most iconic role was Gabriella Montez from the hit Disney franchise High School Musical. Though her character is Latina, Hudgens is not of Latin heritage. In a Sept. 14 interview with Allure, Hudgens opened up about her Filipino roots and how, for years, people assumed she was Latina just like her HSM character, Gabriella. 

In the HSM films, Gabriella is called “mija” by her mom, who also speaks to her in Spanish. From this alone, it was easy to assume that Hudgens was Latina, but she just set the record straight on her actual heritage, which she’s very proud of. “Everyone automatically assumed that I was Latina, and most people still do. And when I tell them I’m Filipino, they’re like, ‘What?!’ You haven’t met my mother,” Hudgens said. “I think that I’m quite ambiguous, so people don’t really know. But I am doing everything that I can to let people know, because I am proud.”

During the interview, Hudgens shared that though her mother is Filipina, she was raised “super” American. “Yes, I had rice with every meal, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I was super separated from the other kids in school, just because my upbringing was so extremely American,” she said.

It wasn’t until recently Hudgens felt the need to tap into her Filipino background. Earlier this year, The Princess Switch actress took a trip to the Philippines for the first time to find “a piece” of herself she felt was “missing.” She said, “It felt so empowering to know where you’re from, and be able to represent your heritage.”

Ever since she started auditioning for acting roles, Hudgens said she has found it hard to land gigs as a Filipino person. In fact, during a press conference in Manila in April 2023, Hudgens recalled losing out on a role she really wanted because she “wasn’t Black or Latina.”

“I remember, I was auditioning for a movie that I was very passionate about, a character that I always wanted to play, and I was told I couldn’t because I wasn’t Black or Latina,” she explained. “I’m like, ‘I’m ethnic! If that’s what you’re looking for.’ But you know, it’s hard. It really is. And I think I’m still out there, trying to find where I fit in Hollywood.”

With more Filipino representation now being shown in pop culture, Hudgens is grateful she and her “mini-me” Olivia Rodrigo can represent their Filipino-American heritage. “The most incredible thing is when I have these girls come up to me, and they’re like, ‘You were the first person that I saw that looks like me on TV,’” she told Allure. “I want to cry. It’s just really beautiful to be able to be an identifying person that helps allow others to feel seen.”

Bre is the Entertainment Editor at Her Campus. She oversees the entertainment verticals on the site, including celebrities, movies, television, and music coverage. During her college career, Bre was a contributing writer and Entertainment Editor for the Montclair State University chapter of Her Campus. After graduating in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in Communications and Media Arts, Bre worked as a full-time writer at Showbiz Cheat Sheet, where she pitched, edited, and wrote articles covering trending news, movies, television, and celebrities. Bre has also written and conducted interviews for the entertainment site Shadow and Act. When she's not writing, you can find Bre binging 'New Girl' or 'Modern Family' for the millionth time or listening to her assorted Spotify playlist. She also loves spending time with her family and keeping herself busy with a little retail therapy!