Shortly after arriving in 1979 at the United States with her brother and grandmother, Lupe de Santiago got to visit Disneyland. Having grown up in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, de Santiago couldn’t believe her eyes. The sights and wonders at the famed park dazzled her. But there was one element that kept her enraptured: the costumes. From the intricate character clothes she saw at the parades to the meticulously-crafted garments that the various animatronics wore at the rides, de Santiago was mesmerized. More than that she was inspired. “One day,” she told her grandmother, “I’m going to work here.”
It would take close to two decades (and a marriage and three kids) before de Santiago could make her dream a reality. Sadly, her grandmother, who encouraged that goal and who had taught her to sew as a child, didn’t get to live to see the day when de Santiago joined the costuming department at Disneyland. But as the Disney cast member tells Remezcla, she knows her grandmother would have been proud to see how slowly but surely this Mexican seamstress has worked her way up, boasting now the title of Audio-Animatronics Special Projects Lead.
De Santiago is featured in the recently released book One Day at Disney which captures an “ordinary” day at Disney through the lens of 79 different cast members who have agreed to open up their workshops, dressing rooms, kitchens, cubicles, TV studios, labs, locomotive engines — and some even more surprising and diverse work spaces. “I never thought I’d get to be where I am let alone to be chosen to be part of a book!” De Santiago shares. “All of this was unimaginable to me.”
She admits she was a bit shy and apprehensive about first being approached to be part of the Bruce Steele-penned coffee table book. “I was so nervous,” she tells Remezcla “What are they gonna ask me? What am I gonna say? I never thought being part of a book would lead to so many other beautiful things. But just the fact that I was chosen, that I could shine a light on what we would do and show the guests what it is we do, that’s all I wanted. And I hope that they can enjoy it.”
One of those “beautiful things” that came after being featured in the book is getting to see her story up on the small screen, courtesy of the Disney+ short documentary series One Day at Disney. Created as an audiovisual accompaniment to the book, the Disney+ original series offers snapshots of several cast members.
For de Santiago, the most exciting part of all of this has been the chance to share her work far and wide. She still remembers the first time she got to work on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland, sewing and fixing up the costumes for the figures meant to represent people from all over the globe. “I felt such a satisfaction,” she recalls. “Not just that I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed seeing the costumes on these figures but knowing that guests would get to enjoy them. Even though I don’t have contact with guests directly I get to see it when my family visits and how much they enjoy it.”
That global spirit is there also in the costume department which boasts cast members from all around the world. At the workshops de Santiago can hear workers speaking Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and, of course, Spanish. “For this job you don’t really need to speak English,” she proudly shares. All you need is the talent to be part of the team. It’s what first allowed her, a non-English speaker who’d made California her home, feel welcome in a job she always dreamed of. It’s the kind of immigrant narrative that feels, in 2020, both utterly familiar and wonderfully refreshing.
De Santiago’s One Day at Disney episode is now streaming on Disney+.
This interview has been translated from Spanish by Manuel Betancourt for Remezcla.