Top 6 Filipino American Celebrities
Filipinos have long been part of the American landscape. With names like Eva Noblezada, Olivia Rodrigo, Saweetie, and Darren Criss making the rounds online, we now have people telling our stories on-screen. Filipino-Americans have even made waves in American politics, lending a voice to Filipinos in America looking for someone on their side.
Whilst there are already many articles that have highlighted Filipino American celebrities, we wanted to honour some more Filipinos who have found success in the United States after leaving the Philippines.
In no particular order, here are the top six Filipino American celebrities we admire today:
Born in Tacloban City, Leyte, Ruby Ibarra is a hip-hop artist, who was recently featured on American news channels for her work as a scientist researching a COVID-19 vaccine. She gained popularity in 2017 after releasing her full-length rap album Circa91, which talked about her experiences growing up as a Filipino-American and figuring out her identity in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her album, she recognised her Pinoy roots by spitting verses in English, Tagalog, and Waray.
A quick search on the internet will bring up her campaign with Mastercard, alongside fellow musician SZA. You’ll also find Pinays Rising, a scholarship Ibarra founded to help “Pinays/x who will be attending an institution of higher learning”, while also “excelling in the areas of arts (visual, performance/music, conceptual, etc.) and/or community service and activism.”
Today, she continues writing about her experiences, putting in the work to make sure Asian American stories are part of everyday American conversations. As she told the Today news site, “We need to make sure that Asian Americans are not seen as the foreigner or the other. But as part of America.”
Pilar Valdes, sister of Filipino designer Bea Valdes, made it to our list of Filipino American celebrities after gaining popularity as Hollywood actress, Drew Barrymore’s personal chef. As a duo, Barrymore and Valdes whipped up delicious recipes during cooking segments on The Drew Barrymore Show, before collaborating on the New York Times best-selling cookbook Rebel Homemaker: Food, Family, Life.
However, Valdes wasn’t always a chef. She spent 10 years working in non-profit organisations straight after graduating from college in New York City, only cooking for friends as a hobby while remembering her mother’s kitchen in the Philippines. It was through this hobby that she met someone who was willing to pay for her food.
Eventually, Valdes opened the Kickshaw Cookery in 2010 with her friend Binh Ly. Together, they spent the next few years teaching themselves how to run a successful catering company until Ly decided to move to Texas.
Working alone, Valdes transitioned to one-on-one cooking services, which eventually led her to meeting and cooking for Barrymore, and they are still cooking today.
“Working with food has really affirmed my belief that we are all teacher-learners,” wrote Valdes for Tatler Asia. “As someone who didn’t go to culinary school, nor worked at a restaurant, I always recognise that there are gaps in my culinary knowledge. But with a lot of reading, eating and leaning on people, I’ve grown and made my own way.”
Ronnie del Carmen
Ronnie del Carmen grew up in Cavite City, Philippines and even had a career in Philippine advertising before becoming an Oscar-nominated animator in the U.S.
As a teenager in the Philippines, his family fell on hard times after his father’s money was stolen in a business venture.
To make ends meet, del Carmen’s father found work in the U.S., while del Carmen went straight to work after high school. It was only after five years of working that del Carmen entered the University of Santo Tomas, where he earned a fine arts degree, majoring in advertising.
It was sometime after when he had a career as an art director at an ad agency that del Carmen’s father, who had become a U.S. citizen, was able to sponsor him and the rest of the family’s immigration to America.
The early days in America were hard. Ronnie del Carmen couldn’t get a job in advertising. So, after months of job hunting, he turned to his childhood hobby—drawing.
Eventually, del Carmen found jobs in Warner Brothers, where he worked on Batman: The Animated Series; DreamWorks, where he was a story artist for The Prince of Egypt; and Pixar, where he co-directed the critically acclaimed animated film Inside Out with Pete Doctor. It was his work as a writer for Inside Out, that earned del Carmen an Oscar nomination.
Today, del Carmen is working with Netflix to make films and series on Philippine mythology.
Isabel Sandoval was first known for her films Señorita (2009) and Aparisyon (2012), before joining the ranks of Filipino American celebrities in 2019 as director, editor, and lead actress of Lingua Franca.
The award-winning film tells the story of an undocumented Filipino transwoman in New York City, who must deal with the challenges that come with her immigration status, race, and gender. Director, Ava Duvernay’s company, ARRAY eventually acquired distribution rights for the film, which has been streaming on Netflix since 2020.
Sandoval’s performance also won her a Best Actress Award from the Pacific Meridian International Film Festival.
Discussing the award, Sandoval told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “It’s a tremendous honour that I’m very grateful for. But it also demonstrates how art can make a difference in generating empathy and understanding for perspectives and experiences that would otherwise be considered invisible.”
Fresh from her acting debut, this summa cum laude from Cebu’s University of San Carlos is preparing to direct Tropical Gothic, a period film set in 16th century Philippines.
Jon Jon Briones
Before becoming one of our top Filipino American celebrities, Jon Jon Briones grew up in Quezon City, Philippines, where he first received formal vocal training at the Tiples de Santo Domingo boys’ choir. Later, as a young man in 1989, he joined the original cast of Miss Saigon in London’s West End.
Briones eventually moved up the ranks and alternated with theatre actor Leo Valdez as the Engineer, a key character in Miss Saigon, in the musical’s West End run and during its tours in Asia and Germany.
He once again bagged the role of the Engineer in the 2014 West End revival of Miss Saigon, which earned him an Olivier Award nomination and a WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 2015. He would go on to reprise the role on Broadway in 2017, before winning the 2018 Visionary Award from the East West Players theatre organisation.
Apart from his stage work, you’ll also see Briones in several series helmed by Ryan Murphy, including Ratched, and American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. He is currently working on the Dracula film, The Last Voyage of Demeter, set to be released in 2023.
“Our mission is that we change hearts and minds in Hollywood and the theatre community,” said Briones in his Visionary Award acceptance speech, “so they see that we have a voice and a story, beautiful stories to tell. And we are the ones who can and should tell it.”
Nico Santos moved from Manila to Gresham, Oregon when he was 16. It was in Oregon where he discovered his love for theatre and acting; however, his journey to becoming one of our top Filipino American celebrities was a difficult one.
While working in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s costume department, an actor said he was funny and suggested he try stand-up comedy. Encouraged, Santos moved to California to try his luck in the comedy scene.
It was in California that he found an agent who encouraged him to try acting. After several auditions, he landed the part of Mateo in NBC’s Superstore. In the series’ later seasons, he depicted Mateo’s journey as an undocumented Filipino in America, which earned him a 2019 Critics’ Choice Awards’ nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
You can succeed too
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If you need a helping hand getting started with the Kabayan Remit app, you can always talk to our bilingual customer support team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.