Seasonal Ethnic Celebrations at Disney California Adventure from 2012 through 2017

By Maureen Salsitz



By allocating more resources to ethnic celebrations, Disney California Adventure has reflected local demographic trends such as population increases of Hispanic/Latino and Asian groups, connecting the size and duration of each celebration to corresponding demographics within California. The Disney Company has reframed Traditional Disney Ideologies supporting white, middle-class Americans to now reflect this increasing diversity and this illustrates the tensions between Disney’s business goals for increased attendance and sales with the goals of ethnic inclusivity and multiculturalism. By highlighting the roles of Diversity Resource Groups (DRGs) as mediators of representations at the ethnic celebrations, this article examines in-park representations of ethnic identities at four different seasonal celebrations, held from 2012 through early 2017 at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, CA. In contrast to static everyday park features, the ethnic celebrations and festivals are more fluid and dynamic even as they flatten and essentialize identities for Celebrate Gospel, ¡Viva Navidad!, Lunar New Year, and Festival of Holidays.


Keywords: Disney, ethnicity, Disney California Adventure, theme parks, multicultural (multiculturalism), representation, ethnic celebration


While many elements of ethnic representation have been removed from the park on an everyday basis to pull away from multiculturalism after the 2012 remodel, renaming, and rededication of Disney California Adventure, the Disney Company simultaneously pushed forward with seasonal ethnic holiday celebrations and festivals. This paper focuses on this concurrent trend of seasonal inclusivity that reflects demographic trends of diversity within California and localized contexts of ethnicity and panethnicity. A major focus of this research in the design, planning, and implementation of such events at Disney California Adventure is the presence and use of internal Diversity Resource Groups (DRGs) as a component of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to consult about ethnic groups and their usage for these seasonal celebrations. Research here focuses on constructions and interpretations of ethnic identities and key celebrations at Disney California Adventure for African Americans, several Asian groups, and Latinos and Hispanics, and how the Disney Company, with the help of DRGs, has interpreted such identities.

Through the lenses of the Disney Company and its Diversity Resource Groups, ethnic celebrations at DCA reflect local demographic trends as the company allocates more resources, like event duration and event space, while using the Disney versions of ethnic identities. As white populations have declined and been edged out by other groups in California, the Disney Company has had to reframe and resituate some of their Traditional Disney Ideologies that support white, middle-class Americans to now reflect increasing diversity. In this phase of DCA Multiculturalism, there is a struggle to balance national trends of homogenization and Traditional Disney Ideologies with local demographic trends that reveal an increase in ethnic and cultural diversity. For the small, and getting smaller, populations of African Americans in California, Celebrate Gospel has just one short day for its event and little to no intervention of their ethnic identifiers by the Disney Company. However, both ¡Viva Navidad! and Lunar New Year, for Hispanics/Latinos and several Asian groups respectively, have grown in duration and park footprints which correspond with their population sizes in California. These events have also seen more intervention on the part of the Disney Company and DRGs with interpretations of ethnicity. Tensions between nationalistic and nostalgic Traditional Disney Ideologies and seasonal inclusivity found within ethnic celebrations can be seen in the presence and use of key characters at these events. While the events themselves include activities, foods, and performances that appear to have been vetted through DRGs, characters from the wider Disney-verse are utilized according to Traditional Disney Ideologies and are often rife with problems. Select characters to be discussed and analyzed include Chip and Dale, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Mulan, Mushu, and the Three Caballeros. The flattening and essentializing of ethnic identities for ethnic celebrations like Celebrate Gospel, ¡Viva Navidad!, and Lunar New Year at Disney California then suits the business goals of addressing the demographics and some of their interests while simultaneously maximizing profits. My analyses of Celebrate Gospel, Lunar New Year, ¡Viva Navidad! and Festival of Holidays, event footprints of place, space, and scale within the park, as well as the duration of each event correlate to each group’s population within California’s larger demographic framework and socio-political headspace.

At Disney California Adventure (DCA), a broad concept of ethnicity is utilized. When the Disney Company uses the term “multi-cultural,” they are being more literal and are discussing multiple cultures, rather than adhering to an academic usage of the term multicultural and the theoretical perspectives of multiculturalism. This is demonstrated by Disney through several different ethnic celebrations that have commodified ethnicities. According to Disney, these celebrations are “multi-cultural” in that many different ethnic and cultural groups and their ethnic identifiers are being represented and celebrated. This contrasts greatly with true multicultural discourse because ethnic representations are limited to only a few panethnic groups, and those representations have been Disneyfied and Disneyized at the park. Each of the Diversity Resource Groups (DRGs), such as HOLA, COMPASS, and PULSE, connects with members of local ethnic communities. DRGs serve to mediate between preserving ethnic identities and finding a balance that would allow such identities to be flattened and essentialized as they were run through Disney lenses. However, the DRGs and the Disney Company often walk the line of Disneyization by commodifying ethnic identities for consumption and entertainment.

This research draws upon a combination of methodologies, including my own ethnographic fieldwork on-site at DCA from 2008 through early 2017, as well as my textual analysis of elements within DCA. Various web sources describing multicultural events and more have been used as historical research. In April 2015, I obtained an approved IRB from Claremont Graduate University to email a detailed questionnaire to Disney Public Relations specifically asking the Disney Company and the Disneyland Resort how they defined “multiculturalism,” “multicultural,” and some of their practices and policies, including those with ethnic celebrations. This questionnaire was emailed on October 27, 2015, and a polite response was received on October 29, 2015 declining to answer the questionnaire based on the “large number of student project requests we receive.” As a result, I have drawn upon other web and print materials, including Disney press releases, job descriptions, event print media for Annual Passholders, and the Disney Parks Blog.


Unpacking ethnicity, panethnicity and Disney’s use of “multi-cultural” in DCA Ethnic Celebrations

Ethnic identifiers are key components of ethnic identities that help distinguish one group’s traditions from another group’s traditions. More importantly, they provide a sense of common identity that serve to unify a group of people with one another. These ethnic identifiers may include a common religion, language or dialect, clothing, music and performances, and unique foods. However, Jorge Gracia, author of the article “The Nature of Ethnicity with Special Reference to Hispanic/Latino Identity,” reminds us that ethnicity and ethnic identities are dynamic, fluid, and must be thought of in “open, historical and familial terms” rather than as static, unchanging, and with closed terms (Gracia 40). The Disney Company and its Diversity Resource Groups build upon the malleability of ethnicity and ethnic identifiers as they were filtered through Disney ideologies.

To help with ethnic representations and the design and creation of these events at DCA, internal Diversity Resource Groups (DRGs) have provided their input alongside the efforts of participating ethnic groups. Kevin Rafferty, Jr., External Communications Manager at the Disneyland Resort, notes that DRGS are key resources at Disney parks because they “are often consulted on participation in the local community and resort offerings,” and to illustrate this he points out that COMPASS, “which builds Asian and Pacific Islander cultural awareness, provided developmental input to the upcoming [2017] Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure park” (Rafferty “Disneyland Resort Cast Members Chat with Academy Award Winner® and Social Activist Dustin Lance Black About ‘When We Rise,’ Premiering February 27 on ABC”). Three specific DRGs are involved as consultants that provide information, research, and guidelines for ethnic and panethnic celebrations in the form of ¡Viva Navidad!, Festival of Holidays, Lunar New Year, and Celebrate Gospel: HOLA (Hispanic Organization for Leadership Advancement) contributed to ¡Viva Navidad!, COMPASS (Community of Pacific Islanders, Asians and Allies) helped with both the panethnic groups found in 2016’s Festival of Holidays and with Lunar New Year, while PULSE (People United to Lead, Serve and Excel) provided insight into some of the activities at Festival of Holidays and as the organizer of Celebrate Gospel. Each of these DRGs connects with members of local ethnic communities to participate in various activities within the larger event. For example, the Cerritos Chinese School was involved in the Chinese lantern-making activity for 2017, and performers like the Lion Dancers from the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Association in Alhambra and the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy from Los Angeles were featured during the 2014 Lunar New Year festivities (Disneyland Resort Public Affairs “Disneyland Resort Rings in Year of the Horse”).

The participation and collaboration of DRGs with local and international communities is central to maintaining a balance between ethnicity, panethnicity, and to avoid extreme versions of essentialization and commodification. Traditional Disney Ideologies and business goals often toe the line of Disneyization by commoditizing ethnic identities for consumption and the accompanying flattening and essentializing elements of Disneyfication of ethnicity, conflicting with the goals of DRGs. This was apparent with the use of the Three Caballeros birds during ¡Viva Navidad! from 2013 through 2015 on merchandise like t-shirts, hats, pins, and stuffed-bird keychains. Some items, like the Limited Edition pins and stuffed versions of Panchito Pistoles and José Carioca, were wildly popular and soon became collector’s items due to their rarity, while others like sombreros and ponchos may have been deemed inappropriate and insensitive. A reduction and near-removal of these Disneyized and Disneyfied versions of Hispanics and Latinos and their ethnic identifiers were seen in the 2016/2017 season, perhaps indicating that some of these lines were crossed and that the merchandise and representation was no longer culturally-appropriate or profitable.

The strangeness that is the Chip and Dale chipmunks in traditional Chinese outfits for Lunar New Year also exemplifies the fine line between Disneyfication and Disneyization because these characters have not been read as any race or ethnicity except for their implicit whiteness since their first appearance in 1943 (Disney Wiki “Chip and Dale”). By using Chip and Dale in this way, the Disney Company is remaining consistent in its practices to use anthropomorphic characters as connections to ethnicity and ethnic identifiers. Because they are fictional talking animals that are not human, they are therefore exempted from being politically correct and cannot be accused of cultural appropriation or disrespect. It is fantasy and fiction, after all, and the rules of everyday life do not apply here in the context of Disneyland and DCA.


Discussions of Seasonal Ethnic Celebrations at DCA

In February 2011, a push towards larger events with connections to local communities arrived with the first Celebrate Gospel event as a part of Black History Month. Initiatives to reflect the growing Latino/Hispanic and Asian communities were then developed for the 2013 major holiday seasons. The events recognized key religious holidays for groups, and incorporated several ethnic identifiers with music, performances, activities, and foods. Careful thought and consideration went into the Imagineering of these major events that include Celebrate Gospel, Lunar New Year, and ¡Viva Navidad!, as there are unique Disney twists and interpretations that are not present in standard ethnic celebrations. Most recently in the winter 2016/2017 events, more Disney “edutainment” through crafts and activities were incorporated as demonstrated with additional signage and written informational materials. The 2016/2017 ethnic celebrations saw the addition of the new Festival of Holidays to the ¡Viva Navidad! repertoire. With the Festival of Holidays, more ethnic diversity was presented with the inclusion of the holidays of Kwanzaa, Diwali, and Hanukkah, and accompanying “edutainment” activities. For example, educational and entertaining storytelling elements were incorporated into Blue13’s introductions for Diwali, the holiday’s religious and cultural significance, how families around the world may celebrate, and the songs and performances held during Festival of Holidays (A Slice of Disney “Festival of Holidays Bollywood Party DCA Blue13 Dance Company Disneyland Resort” YouTube).

The following sections detail each of the ethnic celebrations at DCA, Celebrate Gospel, Lunar New Year, ¡Viva Navidad! and the recent inclusivity found within Festival of Holidays, while exploring the ethnic and panethnic identities presented through the lenses of Disney. By connecting these celebrations back to recent demographic trends within California, it is clear that the Disney Company is addressing some of the demands of their visitors in ways that continue to meet larger business goals of simultaneously driving profits and attendance.


Celebrate Gospel—Mid-February (2011-Current)

Celebrate Gospel began its tenure in 2011 at DCA, with a brief interlude in 2015 at Disneyland as the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area was under construction. Celebrate Gospel occurs as a part of Black History Month during February and the event itself is a one-day extravaganza that is generally held around Presidents’ Day. Traditionally held at Stage 17 in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot at DCA, Celebrate Gospel generally features 12-16 different gospel choirs and groups. Although Celebrate Gospel is the longest-running of the ethnic celebrations at DCA, there is surprisingly very little information about the events themselves outside of official Disneyland Resort press releases. Few blogs and bloggers review this event, making it difficult to gauge the impact and popularity for park visitors. This was the only ethnic celebration that I was not able to attend in person to collect field research and make observations.

The small park footprint and duration of events for Celebrate Gospel correlate to the small populations of African Americans within larger California demographics. It is unnerving that the relative isolation of this venue and short time scale may also reflect the geographic and cultural marginalization of African Americans in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Without a concise breakdown from the Disney Company, however, attendance for Celebrate Gospel can only be extrapolated. With the overall population in California at just over 39 million in 2015, only 6.5 percent or roughly 2.9 million residents identified as “Black or African American alone,” according to the United States Census Bureau (US Census Bureau “Quickfacts: California”). Within Los Angeles County itself, however, blacks and African Americans make up 9.1 percent or roughly 925,496 of the 10.1 million residents of Los Angeles County (US Census Bureau “Quickfacts: Los Angeles County, California”). Each year for the past decade or so, this population has slowly decreased as more people are leaving Los Angeles, New York City, and other metropolitan areas to return to cities and areas within the South. Greg Toppo and Paul Overberg traced some of these migration trends in their 2015 article “After nearly 100 years, Great Migration begins reversal” and noted that Los Angeles was one of the major metropolitan cities that has been affected (Toppo and Overberg “After nearly 100 years, Great Migration begins reversal”). Aaron Renn from the Los Angeles Times followed up in 2016 to say that such out-migration trends for blacks and African Americans are clear as “West Coast progressive enclaves are either seeing an exodus of blacks or are failing to attract them” (Renn “Op-Ed Why has there been an exodus of black residents from West Coast liberal hubs?”).

Within Orange County, blacks and African Americans made up only 2.1 percent or roughly 66,000 people within the larger population of 3,169,776 in 2015 (U.S. Census Bureau “Quickfacts: Orange County, California”). These numbers grew only marginally from the 2010 census, where they comprised only 1.5 percent of Orange County’s population. Theresa Walker from the OC Register noted that traditionally, African Americans as a group rarely surpassed 2 percent of the population, likely because of the high rates of conservatism behind the so-called “Orange Curtain” where some have termed Orange County as “the Mississippi of the West” (Walker “O.C. has a growing ethnic population with one exception: African Americans”).

In addition to supporting and connecting with local gospel groups and African American communities, educational and informational components were added in 2014 to Celebrate Gospel with a walk-through exhibit that highlights the history and traditions of gospel music (Rafferty, Jr. “Southern California Choirs to Raise Voices and Spirits During Fifth Annual Celebrate Gospel at Disneyland Resort”). Called the Gospel History Walk, this exhibit is comprised of several informational panels in various locations throughout the Stage 17 area. The history and events presented on these panels, however, do not just present this information through various Disney lenses; instead, the panels are the product of extensive research on the part of gospel scholars and historians, with some events at Disneyland highlighted and DCA briefly mentioned within the larger historical context. The Celebrate Gospel panels thus incorporate Disney and the Disneyland Resort as sites of intersection with the gospel movements and music scenes. Unlike the other ethnic celebrations at DCA, Celebrate Gospel is unique in that it is relatively independent and does not rely upon Disney characters for its festivities.


Lunar New Year—January or February, varies according to the lunar calendar (2013-Current) February 10, 2013 [Snake]; Jan 31, 2014 [Horse]; February 19, 2015 [Goat/Ram]; February 8, 2016 [Monkey]; January 28, 2017 [Rooster]

In 2013, the Lunar New Year holiday celebration was moved from Disneyland to DCA (Glover “Happy Lunar New Year Celebration Moves Across the Esplanade to Disney California Adventure Park”). Built upon the traditions of Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year celebrations have been broadened to also include Vietnamese and Korean ethnic groups. Each of these ethnic groups have their own New Year festivals, with some overlapping similarities. Lunar New Year panels feature information written first in Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese, and then translated into English. Panels have summaries of key traditions for each group, and discuss how they may be celebrated in the country of origin as well as in Southern California. Notable with Lunar New Year celebrations at DCA is the use of DRGs in the planning and implementation of the events with the inclusion of several local Asian performers and dancers in much the same way that DCA invited performers for ¡Viva Navidad! festivities, all as a part of community outreach and connections. The Disney DRG responsible for connecting with Asian and Pacific Islander communities as they plan and organize Lunar New Year celebrations at DCA is COMPASS (Community of Pacific Islanders, Asians and Allies). In 2017, Disneyland Resort Executive Chef Jeremiah Balogh and his culinary team worked in conjunction with COMPASS to craft several different Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean food specialties for the largest Lunar New Year festivities yet (Rafferty, Jr. “Every Role a Starring Role–Executive Chef for the Disneyland Resort Lunar New Year Celebration”).

The first few years of Lunar New Year celebrations were relatively small in scale and event footprint at the park, and celebrations lasted only 2-3 days. I believe that this was a miscalculation on the part of the Disney Company considering the large populations of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans living within a short distance of DCA and within the Los Angeles region itself. Much like with African Americans and Celebrate Gospel, the time and space allocations at DCA for Lunar New Year reflect broader trends within California, Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Parallel with their struggles for space for businesses, housing, and political recognition within the dominant local frameworks of whiteness, so too have Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean celebrations struggled to gain traction at DCA. Finally, in February 2017 the Lunar New Year reached appropriate space within the park and time on the event calendar when it stretched beyond a 3-day weekend to 17 days of events. Unfortunately, many of these 17 days were rained out when historic storms from the “Pineapple Express” hit Southern California to finally make a dent in California’s long-term drought ( “NASA eyes Pineapple Express soaking California”). When it rains, the Disneyland Resort is still open but may cancel parades, performances, and outdoor activities at their discretion as there is very little cover from the elements at either Disneyland or at Disney California Adventure. This was the case at DCA where, despite its best efforts to expand the timeframe and park presence of Lunar New Year, the elements simply did not cooperate and the events ran only a few days longer than the initial 3-day run of previous years.

By 2013, the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County itself had become home to more Asian Americans than any other county within the United States, having the largest Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Korean, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, and Thai American populations (Asian Americans Advancing Justice: 1). The January 2017 population report from the Public Policy Institute of California found that immigration from Asia has increased over the past ten years: “Since 2006, Asia has replaced Latin America as the leading source of new immigrants. In 2015, almost three times as many immigrants arrived from Asia as from Latin America, and China replaced Mexico as the leading country of origin” (Johnson “California’s Future: Population” 2). With over 45 ethnic groups speaking at least 28 languages, the Asian Americans Advancing Justice group asserts that “our diverse communities continue to shape what Los Angeles will become” (Asian Americans Advancing Justice 1).

Orange County followed similar trends in growth with its own Asian populations. Census data has shown that Orange County has the third largest population of Asians in the country, including one of the largest populations of Vietnamese out of Vietnam itself (Campbell and Bharath “O.C. has third highest Asian population in U.S.”). Yen Le Espiritu noted that such large populations of Vietnamese in the United States, and more specifically in California, are one of the largest refugee groups that have settled since the 1970s as a “result of U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia” (Espiritu 226). Orange County has the third largest population of Asians in the country, including one of the largest populations of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam (Campbell and Bharath “O.C. has third highest Asian population in U.S.”). According to The Orange County Register, “Little Saigon sits in the heart of Orange County, five miles from Disneyland… and within 50 miles of 282,000 Vietnamese-Americans” (“Wiki: The history of Little Saigon and the Vietnamese in Orange County”). Koreatown, with its 60,000 residents, is also known as Little Seoul, and is not far from Little Saigon, often to overlapping it (Asian Media Group “Is Orange County the Asian American Dream Come True?”). Anh Do and Christopher Goffard from the Los Angeles Times suggest that Asian communities in Orange Counties are not separate ethnic enclaves, but rather they are Pan-Asian communities and neighborhoods that share resources like shopping centers and are “filled nearly equally with Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese” (Do and Goffard “Orange County home to third-largest Asian American population in U.S.”).

Over several years of observations in 2014, 2015, and 2017, I have seen Lunar New Year events at DCA transform from small, sparsely-attended events (2014) to the greatly-expanded and wildly-popular ethnic and panethnic festival of 2017. In comparison to the nearly six weeks of events for ¡Viva Navidad! and its extensive marketing, Lunar New Year in its early iterations made barely a blip on DCA’s annual event calendar radar. Situated within the same area of DCA in Paradise Garden, Lunar New Year festivities initially took up significantly less space and provided fewer merchandising and food opportunities for park guests. Where ¡Viva Navidad! had expanded its food offerings by taking over part of Paradise Gardens Grill with a full seasonal menu, initial Lunar New Year food offerings were limited to one small cart that featured steamed pork buns, fortune cookies, and sourdough bread that had been shaped to include images of rams.

Despite the DRGs and their seemingly good intentions of ethnic inclusivity with Lunar New Year, the festivities themselves highlight essentializing elements found with Traditional Disney Ideologies. For instance, Chip and Dale and Mickey and Minnie Mouse wear Disney versions of traditional Chinese celebration garb. Mickey and Minnie have generally been read as representations of whiteness that explicitly represent Traditional Disney Ideologies since they are the primary characters and icons of the Disney Company itself. A Disneyfied and Disneyized version of cultural appropriation, this could be interpreted as using ‘yellow-face’ to exploit Chinese identity for the purposes of selling merchandise.

Lunar New Year is one of the few times of year that the face character Mulan, from the 1998 film of the same name, is featured prominently. During field observations at Lunar New Year 2015, I noticed that Mulan was often swamped with lines of ten to fifteen people (comprised of both children and adults) that wanted autographs, hugs, and pictures taken with this “rare” Disney face character. Several culture critics have noted that Mulan and Disney’s telling of her story are not very accurate representations of Chinese culture specifically, or even Asian culture in general (Ma 149). However, Disney’s cultural appropriation of an important Chinese heroine and culture do not seem to have bothered these park visitors or deter them from celebrating Lunar New Year.

In addition to the Mulan face character, Mushu the dragon is also featured in the parade and as a photo opportunity. Children and adults alike were extremely excited to interact with this character, as he is also rarely seen at either of the Disney parks. Voiced by Eddie Murphy in the animated feature (Mulan 1998), Mushu provides comic relief and occasionally acts as Mulan’s conscience and motivator, although many read Mushu as black rather than as any sort of representation of Chinese ethnicity (Ma 151-152). Although included in Lunar New Year celebrations at DCA, there are no characters, face or otherwise, to be found for Vietnamese or Koreans here due to the fact that there are currently very few representations of these ethnic groups to be found within the Disney-verse, outside of some of the characters from Big Hero 6 (2014).


¡Viva Navidad!—Christmas season and Winter Holidays, Nov-Jan (2013-Current)

¡Viva Navidad! was offered for the first time as a part of the Christmas holiday season in 2013, and further expanded in 2014 to take over the Paradise Gardens section. The ¡Viva Navidad! event, much like the populations it reflects and represents, has grown, gained traction, and asserted itself as one of the longest-duration events with some of the biggest use of space within the park. This, too, correlates to the growing presence and populations of Hispanics and Latinos in California, as they currently meet or exceed white populations. A growing force to be reckoned with, DCA could no longer afford to isolate or marginalize Hispanics and Latinos since they comprise one of the major park visitor demographics.

With one of the largest populations in the country, California holds a Latino population of nearly 14.99 million, which had edged out the 14.92 million whites (Panzar “It’s official: Latinos now outnumber whites in California” LA Times 2015). Javier Panzar at the Los Angeles Times states that demographic trends have shown the growth of Latino populations at fairly consistent rates that nearly doubled every 20 years as seen with 12% of California’s population in 1970, and nearly 25% of the state’s numbers by 1990 (Panzar “It’s Official: Latinos Now Outnumber Whites in California”). According to the January 2017 report from the Public Policy Institute of California, by 2014, Latinos surpassed non-Hispanic whites to become the state’s largest ethnic group (Johnson 2). Predictions for the 2030 census continue to reflect this growing population while white populations may continue to decrease (Johnson 2). Hans Johnson, from the Public Policy Institute, also notes that among the millennials and younger generation, Latinos are already in the majority with “52 percent of children age 17 and younger” (Johnson 2). This population growth has also been reflected in trends with the housing market in California and the Los Angeles region, and with legislation against immigrants and educational policies that have seen conservative white populations pushing back against such growth.

Here, defining Hispanic and Latino identities is complex and complicated. The terms themselves are multilayered and multifaceted, and have been used in many ways by bureaucracies, politicians, and activists. Typically, Hispanic has been used to describe Spanish-speakers from ethnic groups and cultures like Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and more, while Latino refers to members of territories and lands that were colonized by Latin nations like Spain and Portugal. While there may be cases of overlapping of the two terms, they are referring to specific histories and contexts that have been critical in the development of ethnic and panethnic identities. While many Hispanic and Latino groups celebrate Catholic holidays in similar ways, sub-groups have more-specific traditions that distinguish themselves based upon their local traditions.

Problems may arise when Disney definitions of Hispanic/Latino do not align with how Hispanic/Latino peoples define and view themselves. Contributing to this is the use of the Three Caballeros for ¡Viva Navidad! at DCA. The Three Caballeros consists of Donald Duck (a citizen of the United States), Panchito Pistoles (representing Mexico) and José Carioca (representing Brazil). 1944’s The Three Caballeros has been frequently discussed as a Hollywood propaganda tool under FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy in the 1940s to promote and ensure good relations between the United States and South America (Spellacy “Mapping the Metaphor of the Good Neighbor: Geography, Globalism, and Pan-Americanism in the 1940s”). The use of the Three Caballeros within ¡Viva Navidad! celebrations coincides with a modern version of the Good Neighbor Policy that focuses Disneyland’s surrounding neighborhoods, as well as propaganda to continue friendly economic, political, and cultural relationships with Mexico and countries in South America.

In addition to the presence and visibility of Donald, Panchito, and José as the Three Caballeros, Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy are also present during ¡Viva Navidad! celebrations in Disney versions of traditional folklorico and mariachi outfits. Again, Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy are read as white, and when they are wearing the traditional garb of ethnic groups not their own, it becomes more than a simple costume and can potentially be read as wearing ‘brown-face’ to essentialize and stereotype Hispanics and Latinos. However, visitors are delighted to see these mainstay Disney characters participating and reveling within their own holiday and ethnic traditions, and are unaware that cultural appropriation is taking place here. It is seen as harmless, delightful, and playful rather than inappropriate and disrespectful.


Festival of Holidays—Christmas season and Winter Holidays, Nov-Jan (2016/2017)

The 2016 Festival of Holidays expanded ethnic celebrations throughout a large portion of the park with the inclusion of food and drink kiosks, holiday arts and crafts, and areas that featured performances by multiethnic groups. The logo design for Festival of Holidays subtly includes representations of the four ethnic and holiday celebrations. For Kwanzaa and Diwali, candles represent their celebrations of light. Christmas is represented with holly berries and leaves in the center, while Hanukkah, also a Festival of Lights, is represented more-specifically with dreidels.

The planning and efforts for these crafts and activities by Disney DRGs reflects additional local demographic trends beyond those already covered by Celebrate Gospel, ¡Viva Navidad!, and Lunar New Year. By featuring and representing Diwali, a traditionally Hindu holiday that is a festival of light, DCA is reflecting demographic trends in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, where there are an estimated 37 Hindu centers and approximately 70,000 adherents in Los Angeles County alone (Given Place Media “Hinduism in Los Angeles County”). Inclusion of Hanukkah crafts and performances into the Festival of Holidays repertoire also recognizes the diverse and thriving Jewish communities and their long-standing presence in downtown Los Angeles and within Orange County (The Pluralism Project “Los Angeles”). Notably absent during Festival of Holidays are Muslims and Islamic holidays, following national trends of Islamophobia.

Many different DRGs, including HOLA and PULSE, participated in the planning and implementation for Festival of Holidays. This becomes apparent with the print materials and activities featured at arts and crafts tables for Kwanzaa, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Along with the crafts and guidance from cast members, print materials were provided that detailed information about the ethnic or religious holiday and the specific craft being created.



The Disneyland Resort has held many different kinds of celebrations and festivals over the years, oftentimes to support Traditional Disney Ideologies by reflecting larger national trends of whiteness with events for Halloween, Mardi Gras, and Easter. In contrast to the events at Disneyland, Disney California Adventure instead reflected and responded to the ethnic diversity of California’s populations and the shifts in demographic trends in the Greater Los Angeles region over the past several decades. Since DCA opened in 2001, it has attempted to promote and demonstrate diversity in many different ways. In this phase of Ethnic Inclusivity, ethnic identities and corresponding holiday celebrations have in some cases been flattened, essentialized, and used as commodities for the business purposes of the Disney Company. Beginning with Celebrate Gospel in February 2011 and culminating with Festival of Holidays and Lunar New Year in the winter events of 2016/2017, ethnic celebrations and festivals at DCA have grown in size and complexity. The winter 2016/2017 season saw the expansion of ¡Viva Navidad! with the Festival of Holidays, and the growth of Lunar New Year from one three-day weekend to seventeen days. Events like ¡Viva Navidad!, Lunar New Year, and Celebrate Gospel at DCA directly compete with other festivities in the Los Angeles and Orange County regions, yet they have proven quite popular and are developing into Disney traditions that may be complementary or supplementary and incorporated with other ethnic traditions. Perhaps the successes of these ethnic holiday celebrations have contributed to increases in attendance and popularity at Disney California Adventure and further driving future business decisions by the Disney Company regarding the profitability of seasonal ethnic inclusivity at its parks; however, the Disney Company has not publicly released such granular statistics to support my conjecture.

Ultimately, Disney California Adventure is just one cog in the grand scheme of things that comprises the Disney Company as a business and corporation. As such, the Disney Company and DCA are firstly beholden to their board and shareholders that are mainly driven by profits and secondarily by political and demographic trends. Diversity Resource Groups (DRGs) have swayed, at least temporarily, in favor of ethnic and cultural diversity to guide internal policies and external ethnic celebrations that just so happen to be potentially lucrative for profits and attendance. While Festival of Holidays suggests a resurgence of multiculturalism at DCA, nationwide there continue to be trends of conservatism and nationalism, as well as growing ethnic and religious tensions.

In contrast to the built-to-last park features like Cars Land and those that are semi-permanent features seen with billboards at Paradise Pier, ethnic celebrations and festivals at DCA, like the cultures they represent, are more fluid, dynamic, and changeable. Disney DRGs are internal tools that the Disney Company uses to reflect changing internal and external representations of ethnic groups at such events. Local contexts and demographics often form the basis for ethnic and panethnic interpretations that DRGs may then run through Disney lenses to translate into Disney-appropriate celebrations. Both Celebrate Gospel and Festival of Holidays, with their distinct lack of Disney characters and therefore the tokenization of ethnic and racial identities deviate from this trend at DCA. On the other hand, ¡Viva Navidad! and Lunar New Year tend to embrace, to a limited degree, the Disneyfication and Disneyization of ethnic and panethnic identities.

However, the successes of seasonal inclusivity at DCA with these celebrations suggest that cultural diversity, as managed by DRGs and through Disney lenses, is good for attendance and profitability, and therefore to business. As long as visitors are going to such events and spending their money, it is likely that DCA will continue with events that foster seasonal inclusivity.


Works Cited

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Brown, Anna, and Mark Hugo Lopez. “Ranking Latino Populations in the Nation’s Counties.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, 29 Aug. 2013, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.

Campbell, Ronald, and Deepa Bharath. “O.C. Has Third Highest Asian Population in U.S.” The Orange County Register, 12 May 2011, Accessed 18 July 2016.

Disneyland Resort Public Affairs. “Disneyland Resort Rings in Year of the Horse.” Disneyland Resort Public Affairs, 6 Feb. 2014, Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

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