This 27-year-old keeps taking day laborers to Disneyland. One thing always catches his attention

Jesús Morales rolls down his window as he pulls into a California Home Depot parking lot.

“We need three workers,” he says in Spanish.

“We’re going to go to Disneyland,” Morales tells the men as they climb into the back seat of his SUV. “We’ll pay you for the day.”

“But what are we going to do there?” one of the workers asks.

“Enjoy the park. That’s all,” Morales says.

Puzzled expressions flash across the day laborers’ faces. It’s clear this isn’t what the men were expecting. And that’s exactly the point.

Years ago, if you’d told Morales he’d leave behind the job he loved at a San Diego gym and make TikToks for a living, he would have given you a similar, this-dude-is-out-of-his-mind look.

But today, the 27-year-old has amassed more than 5 million followers and more than 160 million likes on the social media platform, where he’s known as juixxe. He’s secured sponsorships from big-name brands, and filmed videos with celebrities like Mario Lopez and Oscar de la Hoya by his side.

His devoted fanbase has come to expect — and adore — the moments Morales shares from his visits to Home Depot parking lots and street corners across Southern California. Since 2020, he’s posted hundreds of videos showing him surprising workers and street vendors — many of whom are Spanish-speaking immigrants — with grand gestures such as $1,000 tips and trips to Disneyland. And viewers of his videos have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help his cause.

“For me that’s what’s most surprising,” Morales says, “how powerful the internet is, and how awesome it can be when you utilize it for good.”

The videos show something we rarely see

Morales says he’d never been to Disneyland before bringing a group of workers there for the first time last year. So far, he estimates he’s taken about 50 workers to the Anaheim theme park since he started the effort about a year ago.

There’s a reason the videos Morales shares from the popular tourist destination are resonating so widely, according to Natalia Molina, a distinguished professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

“Especially if you come from an immigrant background, if you are Latino or an immigrant, it’s validating,” she says. “He puts a spotlight on them and treats them with respect, and you’re reminded of something that we shouldn’t need to be reminded of — that these are human beings who live whole lives.”

It’s common to hear politicians talk about desperate migrants at the border. But it’s rare to see positive portrayals of immigrants, and even rarer for them to be depicted experiencing joy, Molina says.

But in Morales’ Disneyland videos, happiness is a common theme that resonates with viewers — and catches them by surprise.

“Where else are we going to get these images? You sure aren’t going to get them on the big screen,” Molina says. “The representation of Latinos has not changed in almost two decades. They make up an average of 4% of speaking roles, and when they do they’re often depicted as criminals or housekeepers, as low-wage service workers who have no voice. They’re just these flat stereotypes. And these videos bring them out as human beings, living three-dimensional lives, that just experience so much joy.”

Morales says one thing always catches his attention when he brings people to Disneyland: their laughter. - Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images/File
Morales says one thing always catches his attention when he brings people to Disneyland: their laughter. - Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images/File

A hotel housekeeper smiles and tears up as she watches a parade float featuring Miguel from “Coco.”

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve had a day for myself,” she says.

An older man wearing Mickey Mouse ears admits he’s surprised by what he’s seen. “I’ve never had an experience like this, even as a kid,” he says. “I feel very happy.”

A landscaper who recently lost his job is shown shaking hands with Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

And in one video, a worker tells Morales he helped build part of the park, but never had a chance to visit as a guest.

Disneyland isn’t the only place Morales has taken the subjects of his videos. Some of his social media posts also feature visits to sporting events, music festivals and product launches. But there’s something about the Disney videos that’s particularly captured the attention of viewers — and Morales, too.

Even the men who started out their day with puzzled scowls in Morales’ back seat are later shown wearing Mickey Mouse ears and squealing like children on roller coasters.

“That’s the thing that always gets me,” Morales says, “seeing or hearing them laughing.”

He sees his own family’s struggles in their faces

When he started making TikToks, a different sort of laughter was on Morales’ mind.

Like many people during the pandemic, he was furloughed from his job and turned to TikTok to fight boredom and make people smile. He thought back to a nickname he’d gotten back in high school in Aurora, Illinois — “Juice” — and used that as the inspiration for his username.

Some of the early videos posted on his “juixxe” account in 2020 feature Morales walking into various locations wearing a hollowed-out watermelon as a face mask.

But Morales says he was inspired by other social media posts that featured creators giving donations to those in need, and thought he’d give that a try.

It wasn’t long before he turned his attention to street vendors, who he says made him think of what he’s heard about his own family’s struggles when they first arrived in the US from Mexico.

“They really came from nothing. My parents were literally sleeping on a piece of cardboard on a basement floor,” Morales says.

Eventually, he says, they went on to build successful careers in the US — his mom worked at banks as a mortgage loan officer, and his dad now has his own auto body shop.

He’ll never forget a story his mom tells about working as a waitress in an Aurora restaurant while she was pregnant with him.

The party of more than 10 people left her just one penny as a tip.

A screengrab from one of Jesús Morales' TikToks shows Mickey Mouse placing ears on a worker visiting the theme park. - Courtesy Jesús Morales
A screengrab from one of Jesús Morales' TikToks shows Mickey Mouse placing ears on a worker visiting the theme park. - Courtesy Jesús Morales

That heartbreaking moment was in Morales’ mind when he used donations to give a street vendor a $100 tip for the first time back in August 2020. And again when he started giving larger tips to vendors after getting more donations from his followers.

And when the moment came later that year for him to decide whether to stay in his job at the gym or devote himself to TikTok full-time, Morales says he knew what he had to do.

The popularity of his videos landed him on TikTok’s 2021 discover list highlighting him as one of the star “changemakers” on the platform. TikTok also named him to its list of Latinx TikTok Trailblazers that year.

Now Morales says he earns enough income to support his family from brand deals and sponsorships. And all the donations he receives from viewers, he says, are passed on to the workers he meets.

After their days in Disneyland, where an adult ticket for one day can cost between $104 and $196, videos show Morales paying workers $500 for their time.

Why he started changing his approach

In some ways, the videos Morales makes today are similar to the TikToks he started sharing back in 2020. But as time has gone by, he’s refined his approach. One reason: he started noticing that even when he gave workers massive tips intended to make them take breaks, they wouldn’t.

“I’d be like, ‘Hey, just please do me a favor, just go home and get some rest, that’s all I ask.’ And they’d be like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ And 9 times out of 10, I would take a spin around the corner, and then they’d still be there selling,” Morales says. “My biggest concern was, I want them to get home safe with the money. But they just kept hustling. And so we ended up kind of pivoting.”

Instead of tipping workers, Morales and his crew started buying out all the products at taco, flower and fruit stands, and sometimes helping to give them away.

“So then they have no other choice but to go home, or at least do whatever it is that they want for the rest of their day,” Morales says.

Morales, shown here at a 2022 film premiere, says he rarely keeps in touch with the street vendors and workers he's met along the way. He prefers the interactions to be fleeting, almost like a dream. - Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images
Morales, shown here at a 2022 film premiere, says he rarely keeps in touch with the street vendors and workers he's met along the way. He prefers the interactions to be fleeting, almost like a dream. - Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images

And now, in some cases, to go with him to Disneyland.

Morales estimates he’s given out around $600,000 to street vendors in Southern California since his efforts began. He rarely keeps in touch with the vendors and workers he meets along the way. Morales says he likes the idea of the interaction being fleeting, almost like a dream.

But occasionally, he’s followed up and started fundraisers to collect more money for them. On GoFundMe, he’s led efforts to raise money so a longtime street vendor could retire in Mexico, and to help a taco stand owner get his own food truck.

“We may experience life’s ups and downs differently, but everyone can make a positive difference in the life of another, like Jesús Morales has done for his neighbors, friends and even strangers,” GoFundMe spokeswoman Leigh Lehman said in a written statement, noting that Morales had brought people together to raise more than $200,000 on the platform.

What he hopes his son will learn from their Disney trips with day laborers

Responses to Morales’ posts are overwhelmingly positive. Comments praising him and calling him an angel are common.

As someone with a dad who hasn’t had a day off since he got to the US, thank you truly

I swear you heal a lot of people’s inner child 🥹 most immigrants spend most of their life working and saving and not being able to go out to places like this thank you for all you do

Hard working people deserve to get spoiled too ✨🙏 God bless your soul for giving them that experience

And the videos have become so popular that sometimes, strangers recognize Morales when he’s bringing a group into Disneyland and offer their own donations on the spot.

But occasionally critics chime in, accusing Morales of exploiting workers for clicks and asking why he needs to have a camera rolling to do something good.

Morales says he understands where they’re coming from, but he tries to keep focused on the positive.

“I know my intentions, and my intentions are pure. If nobody knew my name, or my username, I could care less, to be honest,” he says. “And in the most respectful way, I just want to keep doing things like this. Social media has allowed me to be able to do things like this. And who knows what other amazing things we can do.”

No matter how he expands his social media efforts, Morales says he plans to keep making the Disneyland videos and taking workers there.

Hearing their laughter, he says, is worth more than any click or comment.

There’s another benefit, too. Morales’ girlfriend and their 3-year-old son often accompany him on the Disneyland trips.

“I’m not sure if he fully grasps what I do yet,” Morales says, “but every time we’re going to take people to Disney, he asks, ‘Are you bringing the amigos?’”

He says he hopes the stories he’s telling with his videos are sending a message to his son, too: how beautiful it is to give.

CNN’s Jai-Leen James contributed to this report.

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