We are deep in Disneyland on a family vacation, tired but happy. The girls have been enjoying the music, make-believe, and spectacle that is this childhood fantasyland. I am happy to report from the glittery trenches that there is plenty of Spanish to be heard on main street, churros in every land, and a pretty decent Mexican restaurant in the park as well. Looking around at the staff that works here in the Happiest Place on Earth, I see many Latinas and Latinos. There are plenty of Latino families at the park along with us. But there’s still something missing…
Donde estamos, Disney? I’ve been keeping mis ojos pelados for representations of our cultura, and aside from those previous mentions, there are surprisingly few. The only Disney characters I have discovered that are Latino/a are Jose, un perico, in the Tiki Room (although he mentions a Rosita, she seems to have flown the coop) and Ramone from Cars. I remember there being a few other bird characters in old Disney films, like the Three Caballeros, but no major stars, human, or otherwise. Admittedly, there are more problems with Disney than this, but I am willing to ignore my other concerns for a few days of fun-filled whimsy. Even this lack of representation isn’t enough to keep me from appreciating the spectacle and magic offered here, but it would be nice if we were included a bit more prominently, particularly here in Anaheim, California, where so many Latino families reside. Disney has chosen Native American, Asian, and African-American heroes/heroines…when do we get a turn?
Well, in case that the imagineers need some ideas, here are some potential characters that could star in their own Disney movie. I would definitely pay to see any of these stories get the Disney treatment:
Lucia Centeno: In The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, Lucia is a magical woman, mistreated by villagers who do not understand her. She embodies forgiveness, power, and wisdom. There is no princess in this story, but as the title suggests, this character is far more poderosa than a princess.
Francisco Jimenez: In his trilogy of books, beginning with The Circuit, Jimenez tells the story of his life as a migrant child. Despite incredible odds, he reaches his dreams through education, familia, and hard work. Any dignified depiction of migrant workers in a Disney film would be amazing and affirming for so many!
Marisol McDonald: This girl is Peruvian-Scottish-American and resists everyone’s attempts to put her into a “box” in Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match. Marisol is a perfect candidate for a female lead, with tenacity and strength she can overcome any obstacle.
Xochitl: Far away from her home of El Salvador, Xochitl and her family grow flowers and a community when they begin a nursery in their new home. The imagery from this book is already fantastic and whimsical.
La Llorona: While she is often depicted as a villain, it need not be so. La Llorona can be a magical and powerful ghost. Or she could be a villian! Some of Disney’s most memorable character’s are villains!
Ellen Ochoa: The first Latina in space would make an amazing adventure story! She literally worked in outer space! It doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Disney already has Cars, I think they could go into outer space next, and Ellen could be their fearless leader!
Okay…so those might not be your typical Disney characters, but they could be a step in the right direction. I have spent decades entranced by the magic of Disney and trust that if they put their many creative minds to the task, Disney would be able to create a masterpiece which celebrates the tenacity and beauty of our heritage. I’d love to hear other ideas for Latino/a characters and stories. You never know, maybe there is an imagineer in our midst!