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Of Mice and Marketing: A Story of Inclusion

Screenshot from the 1986
Screenshot from the 1986 "Venga, Venga!" Disneyland commercial. (NMAH. AC. 1384)

Picture this: the year is 1983 and Disneyland has started dubbing some of its English commercials into Spanish in the hopes of reaching a wider audience. However, despite being surrounded by one of the largest Latino populations in the country, less than 15% of visitors were Latino [1]. Nowadays, with the release of movies like Coco (2017) and Elena of Avalor (2016), it’s hard to picture Disney having this problem. But at the time, Disney couldn’t figure out why anyone wouldn’t be enthralled by the idea of visiting the happiest place on Earth.

So Disney did what they do best: they hired the experts to tell them what went wrong.

Enter Norma and Hector Orci of (at the time) La Agencia de Orci y Asociados advertisement agency. In 1984, Norma and Hector were hired by The Mouse to bring Latinos in. According to an interview with the couple, conducted by Kathleen Franz in 2016 [2], Disney believed that the reason for the lack of attendance was due to the expense of taking the entire family into the park. When Norma and Hector began their research with the Latino community, they found a more surprising answer.

Norma: "we found out that it was because they had never been invited. And they didn’t know what kind of welcome they would receive. And it’s such an American institution that the likelihood of them being welcoming with open arms was pretty small, and they did not want to take the chance of being humiliated in front of their children by not being welcome."

With this in mind, La Agencia worked with Disney to create ads that stressed the inclusion of Latino families into the park. One commercial quite literally welcomed Latinos into the park with different park characters and workers repeating “Venga, Venga!” (translates to “Come, come!”) to celebrate Donald Duck’s birthday. Latino families were seen prominently in the ad and attendance in the park increased. In a 1988 interview with the LA Times, Orci said that "the ads remind Hispanics that Disneyland belongs to them as much as anyone else." In context, this is incredibly important as the gains made during the 1960s Civil Rights movement were only very recent. Just 20 years previously, California’s Latino students were protesting structural discrimination in their high schools with the East L.A. walkouts. It is no stretch of the imagination to consider that the same high school students who were punished for speaking Spanish in class [3] and who experienced housing discrimination [4], would be hesitant to bring their families to this icon of America as adults.

To know, with certainty, that you are welcomed is no small thing.

On a grander scale, it speaks to the importance of representation, not only in business models, but in our methods of visual communication. Simply translating the English commercials into Spanish was not enough to make a difference, as one member of the Orci’s focus group said, “In English, I understand. In Spanish, I feel.” Beyond translation it showed a need to be understood in the most nuanced of ways. Yes, it was important to show that Disneyland was family friendly but it was equally important to show that it would be respectful and welcoming of Latinos. It took the Orcis, a Latino couple, to be able to reach and understand the community’s needs. After that, it took Latinos being able to see themselves in advertisements to know that Disneyland was a place where they would be welcomed. On a small scale, it’s about being welcomed in the House of Mouse, and on a grander scale, it’s about being included in America itself.

[1] Horovitz, B. (1998, March 01). Disneyland Ads Aim for Latino Families. The L.A. Times, Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1988-03-01/business/fi-288_1_latino-family

[2] Hector and Norma Orcí Advertising Agency Records, 1979-2016, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

[3] Sahagun, L. (2018, March 01). East L.A., 1968: ‘Walkout!’ The day high school students helped ignite the Chicano power movement. The L.A. Times, Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-1968-east-la-walkouts-20180301-htmlstory.html

[4] Green, M. (2017, April 27) How Government Redlining Maps Pushed Segregation in California Cities. KQED News. Retrieved from https://www.kqed.org/lowdown/18486/redlining

Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez is a graduate from Eastern Washington University, where she double majored in Anthropology and Race and Culture Studies. While at Eastern, her research focused on the effects of representation in media on the identity formation of historically marginalized groups. In her spare time, she works with organizations focusing on advocacy for immigrant and LGBTQ+ communities. While interning at the Museum Support Center through the Internship to Fellowship (I2F) Program, she worked under Carrie Beauchamp digitizing and rehousing collections. Her fellowship research focused on the representation of Latinos in advertisements and ephemera from the 1950s to present time and the implied larger socio political conversation surrounding Latinos each decade.

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