Walt Disney was born in Spain: reality or urban legend?

From time to time, someone brings up the fact that Walt Disney was born in Spain. It is certainly a common topic of discussion in Mojácar, where this story never seems to grow old. The inhabitants of this mountain village in the province of Almería (Andalusia) are confident about this fact, whereas it is just regarded as an urban legend in Hollywood. However, only the people in Mojácar witnessed those men in suits looking for a mystery birth certificate in the 1940s.

Walt Disney and Mojácar: a three-act tale

Beautiful Mojácar in Andalusia

Beautiful Mojácar in Andalusia. | Shutterstock

This tale begins as the main character, a woman called Isabel Zamora, parts from Mojácar in the early 20th century. It is uncertain whether she was pregnant or her child was already born. Either way, Zamora’s son was conceived out of wedlock, which was quite a scandalous act at the time. Nobody knew who the father was, but some fingers were pointed at a doctor called José Guirao. In any case, Isabel, a laundress from Mojácar, left for Chicago, where she reunited with his brother. Allegedly, the young woman felt sick and disoriented, so they both decided to give up the child for adoption. End of act I.

The second act takes us forty years forward, back in Mojácar. The inhabitants of the Andalusian village witnessed the arrival of two American men wearing suits, who could not speak a word of Spanish. Nonetheless, they made it pretty clear what they were looking for: they wanted to check the birth certificate of a man called José Guirao Zamora. Reportedly, those men spent a few days going through the municipal archives. If they did find what they were searching for, nobody knows it. Sadly, most documents from that time period got lost during the Spanish Civil War. It is almost as if the man called José Guirao never existed. End of act II.

As usual, the third act is the part that wraps up the plot. However, this story has an open ending for the reader’s own interpretation. This is when the first two acts get intertwined and history becomes legend, mainly due to the fact that it is impossible to ascertain if the tale is actually true. Legend has it that Isabel Zamora gave up her son, José Guirao Zamora, for adoption to a family of farmers whose last name might sound familiar: the Disney family. They already had three kids at the time, and would later on have a fifth one. The child they adopted in between became Walt Disney in 1902. Is it reality or just another urban legend? That we might never know.

To be continued…

Walt Disney's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Walt Disney’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. | Shutterstock

As we said, we might never be able to solve this mystery because we lack evidence to come to any decisive conclusion. Perhaps the last sentence of this tale will always be “to be continued”, or perhaps some future research will cast some light on the matter. At the moment, this three-act tale can provide a couple more facts. It is true that we never found the mystery birth certificate in Mojácar, but apparently, Walt Disney’s birth certificate was not found anywhere else either. According to the authorised biography written by Walter’s own daughter, he was born in Chicago in December 1901. However, according to the Town Hall of Mojácar, there is no birth certificate there that can prove this fact. Hence, we could say legend becomes reality now.

This might change if we consider the following information. In 1957, the well-known Spanish journalist Manuel del Arco personally interviewed Walt Disney for the daily newspaper La Vanguardia. Back then, there were already rumours revolving around the fact that it was possible that Walt Disney was born in Spain. According to the Spanish film magazine Primer Plano, both the priest and the major of Mojácar confirmed that Walt Disney was José Guirao and he was born in that village.

When Manuel del Arco interviewed Disney, he asked him about the rumours regarding his Spanish ancestry. Walt Disney’s answer was straight: “I’m half English/Irish and half German, my mother was German, and I was born in Chicago. The word was spread that I was Spanish because they confused me with a fellow artist I have worked with, who was called Zamora”.

These are the facts. However, there will always be different interpretations. What you choose to believe is only up to you.

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