By the time California rings in 2015, it'll have a new demographic face. Demographers predict in the coming months, the state's Hispanic population will become California's largest ethnic group. And businesses are taking notice.
One of those powerhouse businesses – the Disney Resort in Anaheim – has upped its focus on the Latino community for the holiday season.
In a corner of Disney's California Adventure, the sister theme park across the way from Disneyland, mariachi singers and colorful folklorico dancers surround the Three Caballeros. Those are the Latin-theme characters from a 1944 Disney feature that aimed to promote good will with Latin America.
At the “Viva Navidad” celebration in the park, Donald Duck wears a sombrero. He's flanked by Panchito, the Mexican rooster with a big belt buckle; and José Carioca, the festive green parrot from Brazil.
Crowds gather to watch the colorful show. Park regular Nadine Prado of San Diego and her family stand and watch. She said she's glad the Disney parks have embraced her Latino culture.
"Not everybody celebrates just Christmas. Some people do a certain way, like the traditional tree and Santa Claus," Prado said. "With Mexicans, it's about a fiesta and fiesta bowls, and like street fairs and stuff like that. That's how we celebrate it, and it's pretty cool that they have a little section for us."
Claudia Erdogan handles multicultural marketing at the Disneyland Resort. She said Disney often takes part in local Latino celebrations, but over the past few years, has shifted its focus at the parks to include more of California's diverse population.
"We want to bring, kind of like the community into the park, and the traditions, and make it organic and make it natural for guests to come and see themselves, and realize that we cherish their tradition," Erdogan said.
Erdogan said this is not the first time the parks have marketed to Latinos. Walt Disney designed Disneyland's Frontierland to include mariachi singers early on. The Disney parks have reached out to the Latino and Asian communities with special days and events over the last few years, but none have stretched as long as this season's “Viva Navidad” celebration.
Erdogan said Hispanics are a large segment of the local population: More than 14-million Latinos call California home.
UC Irvine Professor Mary Gilly studies consumer behavior. She said the Latino population has grown too large for companies to ignore.
"With Disney, they're appealing to families with young children. The Latino market is demographically younger and with larger families," Gilly said. "And so it certainly makes sense for them in particular to be trying to appeal to the Latino community."
William Nericcio, an expert in Chicano culture at San Diego State University, agreed.
"Everybody's paying attention to Latinos," Nericcio said. "And I guess the thing that woke everybody up was the level of Latino voting in the last presidential election. I mean, Obama is not president without Mexican-Americans."
Still, Nericcio said companies must walk a fine line between marketing and respecting the culture.
For example, Nericcio said Disney found that out earlier this year, when it tried to copyright "Día de Los Muertos," or "Day of the Dead."
"It caused an incredible blowback from the Latino activist community, and they had to pull off on that," Nericcio said. "The idea that they were going to copyright a cherished and traditional holiday that's dedicated to the memory of dead Mexicans kind of was a public relations fiasco."
Both Nericcio and Gilly point out that California's Latino population is extremely diverse, which makes it difficult to market to.
"You've got people from many different Latin American countries. You've got others that are second, third, fourth, fifth generation, but identify Hispanic," Gilly said. "You've got the high end of the demographic, income-wise, with the Cuban-Americans, and then the lower end with the Mexican-Americans, although that is increasing. You've got Hispanics that identify as white, identify as brown, identify as black. So it's a challenging market to have one-size-fits-all."
Nericcio said while Disney characters often are caricatures, the parks have to balance stereotypes with the real Latino culture.
"The Three Caballeros is filled with this imagery," Nericcio said. "You know, neo-Carmen Miranda, with the great music and the bright colors and the beautiful smiling ladies and the handsome gentlemen ... in the white costumes."
Those colorful costumes and festivities are on display at Disney's California Adventure through January 6, the religious day that celebrates the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.
At “Viva Navidad,” kids – and some parents – shake maracas and try to follow along with a brightly dressed dancer during a dance lesson. At tables nearby, people eat tamales and traditional foods while listening to a live mariachi band on another stage.
Mariana Isunza was surprised to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing traditional Mexican clothes. Isunza is visiting from Mexico City. She said the Latino stereotypes here do not bother her at all.
"They're actually portraying our culture and what we do for Christmas the right way, and it's good what they're doing," Isunza said. "It's not like ... your typical Charo or something, you know, very stereotypical. I think they're doing it with a taste of magic, and I like that."
Isunza said she had no idea the park would have a Latino holiday celebration until she got here.
She wished Disney had actually targeted the Latino community a little bit more.