Susana Tubert shared how she creates inclusive cultural events at Disneyland Resort during the Walt Disney Family Museum Virtual Event
The holidays are in full swing at Disneyland resort and the Walt Disney Family Museum hosted a festive virtual event on how they are celebrated in “The Happiest Place on Earth”. With special guest Susana Tubert, Disney Live Entertainment’s Creative Director for Cultural Festivals and Celebrations, it was an hour of festive fun and a healthy dose of history. And like everything at WDFM, it all started with Walt Disney.
From the early days of Disneyland, Walt Disney invited cultural groups from all over California to perform in the park, creating a safe space for diversity. Beginning in 1957, the annual holiday parade titled “Christmas in Many Countries” was established, which ran until 1964. The parade featured floats and performers from cultural organizations and the line-up was constantly changing. depending on the availability of each group. Sometimes you might have seen an elephant ridden on Main Street, USA by an Indo-American group, or a float with traditional Japanese Noh theater performers.
In July 1963, Disneyland launched a 3 month event on Center Street called “Salute to Mexico”. Walt Disney was present on the first day of the festival, with special guest Miguel Alemán Valdés, then President of Mexico. The event featured women clad in Oaxacan dresses teaching children piñatas as groups of mariachi bands filled the streets with music. There was also an exhibit where guests could view traditional and contemporary Mexican arts and crafts. The event was sponsored by People to People International and was so successful that it was repeated. Other cultural festivals followed in the park on the theme of Japan, Korea and Canada.
Walt Disney’s vision for EPCOT became partially realized thanks to the theme park at Walt disney world Station that exists today, including a global showcase for cultural exploration. When Disney California Adventure Going through its series of changes in 2013, the creative team dreamed of differentiating the cultural festivals in EPCOT Park to be unique in California. This is where Susana Tubert comes in in the story.
Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Susana moved to New York after graduating from high school and followed her grandmother’s artistic legacy by working in the theater. Before joining Disney, she founded a non-profit organization called Theatro Stage Fest, an international theater festival. But when the opportunity presented itself to bring cultural celebrations to visitors to Disneyland, it was an offer she couldn’t pass up.
Many of Susana’s ideas aligned with the types of cultural experiences Walt Disney offered to early visitors to Disneyland. By creating an “immersive festival model” as the setting for each celebration, Susana had three months to organize her first event, Viva Navidad! First presented in 2013, the event is a celebration of the Latinx community in Southern California, themed around the Three Caballeros. In a street party that has been going on for eight years during the holidays, Panchito from Mexico brings in mariachi musicians, folk dancers and giant Mojigangas puppets. José Carioca from Brazil then calls a samba group and Afro-Brazilian dancers to join. With Donald Duck and Mickey and Minnie Mouse joining in the fun, Viva Navidad! allows guests from outside the culture to join in the fun, which stretches throughout Paradise Gardens. Customers can experience ¡Viva Navidad! this holiday season until January 9, 2022.
The feedback from Viva Navidad has been overwhelmingly positive! that Susana was then tasked with revamping the way the famous resort Lunar New Year, which he had done for many years before. Once again, Susana realized that the best access point to the celebration was classic Disney characters, and she put Mulan at the heart of the celebration, with a new show called Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession. A Disney character is chosen to match the Chinese Zodiac animal celebrated in that year and in 2022, the Year of the Tiger, the special character included will be Tigger. As the Lunar New Year festival spread, live performers were added on weekends to bring musical styles from Korea, Vietnam and China to park guests. Interactive experiences including writing on the Wishing Wall, photo opportunities with Disney characters in special costumes, calligraphy artists, and a market serving limited-time food offers. The celebration returns in 2022, from January 21 to February 13.
Over the years, Viva Navidad! grew in popularity and a festival was born around him, Disney’s Holiday Party. The event includes all winter holidays celebrated across California: Christmas, Navidad, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanza. Launched in 2016, the festival decor uses the shape of Mickey’s head as a template to provide themed banners for each party. Another street party was added called Mickey’s Happy Holidays with toy beaters. Liver artists include acts unique to Diwali, Navidad, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza. Guests can enjoy dishes from different holidays at the festive food market and make paper crafts on tables that also educate. The holiday festival is currently running until January 22, 2022.
What started as a Synergy promotion for the upcoming Pixar movie coconut in 2017 has become an annual fall tradition at Disney California Adventure, Familia Square. Susana refers to “the spirit of Dia de los Muertos”, turning the gardens of paradise into a coconut-Inspired celebration every year. A live performance titled A Musical Celebration of Coco incorporates the songs and story of the film, but Susana recalls that when it was first presented before the film’s release, they had to be careful not to reveal the real character of Ernesto de la Cruz. The performance includes the Mariachi Divas and other highlights include themed food and drink offerings, Alebrije paper crafts, the Arbol de la Vida (Tree of Life) based on Mexican folk art in clay and adding to the wall of memory.
Throughout the presentation, Susana Tubert would share meaningful comments that had been gathered from the guests on each experience. But to close the presentation, the last one came from a Cast Member of Mexican-American origin. They wrote that working at the Plaza de la Familia event made them feel proud of their heritage and share it with the guests. With Disney focusing more on diversity and inclusion, this was an appropriate note to end.
Stay up to date on future Walt Disney Family Museum events by checking their calendar of events at waltdisney.org/calendar.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).