This singer and actress first became a fan-favorite for her role in the hit High School Musical movies of the early 2000s. Gabriella Montez, her character in the movies, was Hispanic, so is it possible that the star herself is, too?
Vanessa Hudgens is not Hispanic. Her father, Gregory Hudgens, was of Native American, Irish, and French descent, while her mother, Gina Hudgens, is Filipina, having been born in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
Read on to find out more about Hudgens’s background and why there is so much confusion about the identities of Filipino Americans.
The Hudgens’ Family History
Vanessa Hudgens was born in Salinas, California, and she and her sister Stella grew up with their parents in different cities all along the West Coast. Her mother is Filipina, which makes Vanessa and her sister both Filipino American or “Pinoy.”
Filipino Americans are Asian American, which just means that they are Americans who have Asian ancestry. In the Hudgens’ case, they have specifically Filipino ancestry.
Many fans, after finding out the actress’s heritage, expressed their excitement or surprise in posts like this one.
The confusion about Hudgens’s heritage started when she played a Latina character, Gabriella Montez, in High School Musical. She reflected on how people often mistake her for Latina, saying, “They start speaking to me in Spanish and I’m like, ‘Uhhh… no comprende!’ But I’m trying to learn a bit more Spanish so that I can travel more.”
In a 2012 interview with Selena Gomez and Chelsea Handler on the show Chelsea Lately to promote their upcoming movie Spring Breakers, the topic of being Latina came up.
The answer Hudgens gave when asked if she was Latina left a lot of people confused. The actress said, “I mean, kind of, a little bit.”
Hudgens’s answer is indicative of a much larger history that can be difficult to bring up in such a short interview. So if Hudgens is not Hispanic, how could she be “kind of” Latina?
Check out the interview with Hudgens, Gomez, and Handler in the YouTube video below.
Filipino Americans have often been mistaken for other racial or ethnic groups, such as Latinos or Pacific Islanders. They’ve also had difficulty being correctly categorized because of their history.
The Philippines were colonized by the Spanish and were a colony of the Spanish East Indies for almost 350 years. Then, after the Spanish-American War in which America colonized the Philippines and the subsequent Philippine-American War, both Spanish and American claims to the Philippines ended with their independence in 1946.
Filipinos, having been told up until their independence that they were Americans, faced racism and discrimination by other Americans that caused strife in their identity. Filipino Americans make up the second-largest group among Asian Americans but are not recognized by the American public.
The reason why Hudgens said she was “kind of” Latina comes from this history of shifting identities in the Philippines.
Her mother is Filipina, meaning that she is of Spanish and Chinese descent. Hudgens is “a little bit” Latina because she is partially Spanish, but it’s part of her larger Filipina heritage so she is not Hispanic.
High School Musical Legacy
Hudgens’s Filipino background may have had an impact on the newest version of High School Musical, called High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The name is quite a mouthful, but the series is about students of East High School, where High School Musical was originally filmed, putting on High School Musical: The Musical.
Hudgens was a Filipina cast as the Latina Gabriella Montez, which the series pays homage to by casting Olivia Rodrigo, a Filipina actress, as Nini Salzaar-Roberts, a Filipina high schooler who is eventually cast as Gabriella Montez in their play.
Hudgens’s legacy is carried on in the series by Rodrigo, opening up more opportunities for Filipina actresses.