For more than a decade, Filipino American History Month has been officially observed in the United States. The month honors the contributions that Filipinos have made to American history. It was first recognized by Congress in 2009. However, the celebration has been unofficially ongoing for nearly three decades.
First introduced in 1992, FAHM was established by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS). Per FANHS, it “commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States, which occurred on October 18, 1587.”
One of the things that Filipinos are known for is their love of performing. Whether it’s singing, dancing, or acting, you are almost guaranteed to find at least one person in every Filipino family who is a performer. (My family incidentally is one of the few where no one is a performer.) Where that love comes from? I’m not actually sure. But there’s a reason karaoke is a popular activity during Filipino gatherings.
While we are not well represented in the media, Filipinos have played instrumental roles in creating American entertainment. From Disney favorites to network TV shows, Filipinos have and continue to contribute to the American entertainment industry.
In honor of FAHM, here are some Filipino actors, musical artists, and other entertainers who have helped make your favorite movies, TV shows, and more into a reality:
Salonga is best known as the singing voices for Jasmine and Mulan in Disney’s animated classics, Aladdin and Mulan, respectively. Also well regarded for her work as a stage performer, she won a Tony Award for her lead performance in Miss Saigon in 1991. The Philippines native will be a recurring character in the upcoming series Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.
Born in the Philippines and raised in the U.S., Montalban made a royal entrance into the industry. He played Prince Christopher in the 1997 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. His part — and the movie’s casting as a whole — was groundbreaking at the time of its release and continues to. Asian men aren’t often in lead roles and rarely get to be a love interest. But seeing Montalban got to experience that and more as a prince in a classic story.
In an interview with The Nerds of Color, Montalban spoke on the positive impact the film will have. Because of its availability on Disney+ “those messages of diversity, inclusion, and representation will be carried on into the future.”
Basco, a Filipino American actor, was in Steven Spielberg’s 1991 Hook as Lost Boys leader Rufio. A decade later, he got to play a Filipino American in a Filipino narrative in the independent film The Debut. Additionally, Basco is known for his voice acting work. Among his notable voice roles include Prince Zuko in the Nickelodeon animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender and Jake Long in Disney’s animated series American Dragon: Jake Long.
He also is playing a part in telling Filipino stories as a director. His film, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, was featured at CAAM Fest 2021. In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Basco said, “ ‘Let’s do more’ is what I say to young Filipino artists. … Let’s do more, let’s have more actors, singers, dancers, filmmakers who can show the beauty of who we are. Let us write stories that we know.”
High School Musical was the start of something new for Hudgens. While the actress, whose Filipina ancestry comes from her mother’s side, had a couple roles prior to the Disney Channel Original Movie, playing Gabriella Montez in the HSM trilogy is her claim to fame. This led to two records, V and Unidentified, with Hollywood Records.
She has one Broadway credit, starring in the titular role in the 2015 revival of Gigi and was in Fox’s live musicals Grease Live! and Rent: Live. More recently, she has been in Netflix’s The Princess Switch trilogy. Hudgens is also starring in the upcoming Tick, Tick…Boom! film, which is slated for release on Netflix on Nov. 12.
Interestingly enough, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ Rodrigo — whose character, Nini, goes on to be cast as Gabriella in the meta series’ school musical — is of Filipina heritage like Hudgens. While on Bizaardvark, she participated in an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month campaign for Disney Channel. In this, she detailed her Filipina heritage on her dad’s side.
On HSMTMTS, Rodrigo’s character, Nini Salazar-Roberts, is also Filipina. In episode 1×07, Nini has a scene with her “lola,” a Filipino term for “grandmother.
A Filipina Canadian actress, Mitchell is known best for Pretty Little Liars, where she played Emily Fields — who is of Filipina descent as well. She has also been on You and Dollface. Mitchell’s Filipina ancestry comes from her mother’s side. One of Mitchell’s more recent projects actually helped her connect to that part of her heritage.
Criss became a popular name thanks to his role as Blaine Anderson in the musical TV series Glee. The singer/actor is also well known for FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, playing the infamous Andrew Cunanan. The role, which he won an Emmy for, was the first in which Criss got to play a Filipino.
At Criss’ wedding, he showed off his pride for his Filipino heritage — which comes from his mother’s side. Criss sported a barong, a traditional piece of formalwear in the Philippines.
Josh Dela Cruz
The current generation of kids are growing up with a Filipino American as the face of Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues and You. Josh Dela Cruz is the lead of the children’s show and has even been given the opportunity to show off his heritage on it. In episode 2×05, Josh makes bibingka, a Filipino rice cake, for his lola, who comes to visit. In an article from Rappler, Dela Cruz said, “We get to share that, and be proud, and share our culture. It’s such an amazing thing because I didn’t see that growing up.”
Born in the Philippines and raised in Canada, Jacinto’s breakout role was on The Good Place, where he played Jason Mendoza. He is also in Netflix’s recent horror series Brand New Cherry Flavor and will be in the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick film.
The Philippine-born Santos is known best for his work on NBC’s Superstore, where he played a Filipino character by the name of Mateo Liwanag. According to ABS-CBN, Santos had a part in giving his character a Filipino surname. He mentioned that the show’s creator, Justin Spitzer, gave him the opportunity to provide the character with a last name that is “unmistakably Filipino.”
“I chose Liwanag because I was it’s like a bright light,” said Santos, who was also in Crazy Rich Asians. “I just sort of figured for me in that moment, this is like a bright light for what was happening in my life and I wanted the character to reflect that.”
Vincent Rodriguez III
Known from the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rodriguez’s role as Josh Chan is significant. He was an Asian male romantic lead on a network television series, and Asians aren’t often seen as romantic interests in the media. Beyond that, he previously told AsAm News that his character was changed to suit his ethnicity upon his casting.
“They were specifically looking for an actor of Asian decent,” Rodriguez said. “As soon as I was cast, Josh became Filipino, like me, and his last name was changed to Chan instead since Chan is a surname in the Philippines.”