Disney can truly impact people’s lives. It is more than just a story or a Theme Park. Kyleigh Johnson shared with Disney Parks Blog an example of how A Musical Celebration of Coco helped a Disneyland Cast Member find pride in his heritage:
“Now through Oct. 15, we’re celebrating Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month by sharing inspirational stories of our Disney Parks, Experiences and Products cast members. Today, I’m honored to share this story about Steve Limones, an entertainment performer at Disneyland Resort.
Raised in a Spanish-speaking home by parents who emigrated from Ecuador to Northern California, Steve Limones and his family adapted quickly to American culture. “Growing up, I thought ‘I have to be like white people’ because that’s what I knew,” Steve said about his experience going to a Christian private school in a predominantly white community. “I would get embarrassed if I had to speak Spanish.”
Steve knew from a young age that his ultimate dream was to sing, act and dance as a performer at Disneyland. When he went to study musical theater in grad school, Steve’s background became more front and center. “My professors didn’t know where to place me,” he said as he recalled being cast in standard Hispanic roles, instead of roles that were traditionally represented by white actors.
While he worked at Disneyland through college and later acted professionally after grad school, Steve jumped at the opportunity to perform at Tokyo Disney Resort, where he eventually met his husband, James. Back in California, Steve was cast in Disneyland shows like “ElecTRONica” and “Mad T Party,” and later became part of the iconic barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans. “In a lot of ways, it felt like my childhood dream came true.”
While Steve’s dream may have come true, it wasn’t until he was cast in “A Musical Celebration of Coco” that he experienced an awakening. “A Musical Celebration of Coco” is a festive and colorful show that tells the story of the Disney and Pixar film with music, dance and authentic costumes, offered at Plaza de la Familia in Disney California Adventure park.
“To see a full audience of Latinos – some of them crying, some of them nodding in agreement when I talked about Dia de los Muertos [as part of the show]… It’s a real authenticity that the audience has a deep, emotional connection to,” Steve said, recalling his first time performing in the role.
That moment represented a pivotal shift in Steve’s perspective. “I started to see that being Latino was actually very special,” Steve said. “To see that I come from a culture that is so rich in tradition, life, family, art and music…I finally understood what it meant to be proud of my heritage.”
From that moment forward, Steve wore his heritage as a badge of honor. “My Spanish-speaking was kind of a superpower,” Steve said. “It was something that allowed me to be unique and different.” After being inspired to learn more, Steve and his husband even began celebrating Dia de los Muertos by setting up an ofrenda, or a home altar that displays photos and special objects to honor loved ones who have been—and will forever be—part of their lives.
Now when Steve thinks of his heritage, especially during Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month, he wants to continue the conversation. “In a lot of ways, it’s about inclusivity,” Steve said. “The fact that we recognize this month raises awareness and allows people to ask questions so they can learn about different cultures and peoples and embrace the areas in which we are all alike.”
Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated now through Oct. 15. Disneyland Resort cast members are recognizing the month with events, panel discussions and storytelling about Hispanic and Latinx culture, representation and allyship.
At the resort, guests can visit Plaza de la Familia in Disney California Adventure park, a celebration of the everlasting bonds of family and Día de los Muertos, now through Nov. 2. Guests can also get into the spirit at their next visit to Downtown Disney District, where Latinx performing groups ranging from Mariachi and Latin pop to reggaeton can be found performing on the main stage throughout the celebration. View a list of showtimes here.”