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Pancho Claus Is Coming To Town

He wears a sombrero instead of a stocking cap and a serape instead of a red suit. Rather than a big white beard he has a black mustache and beard. No, he’s not Vincente Fernandez, he’s Pancho Claus. With the recent controversy over Santa’s ethnicity, sparked by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, the question of representations of Santa Claus has been on people’s minds. In Texas, where I come from, all the little Latino boys and girls are visited by Pancho Claus. He usually either rides a donkey or a lowrider and he visits neighborhoods that your average White mall Santa wouldn’t be caught dead in. Sometimes he wears a fly zoot suit like a 1940’s pacheco. Where did this Aztlan Saint Nick come from and what is the benefit of trading in a white beard for a black one?

Pancho Claus came out of the 1970’s Chicano rights movement. Back then it was unthinkable for Santa to be anything but a fat White dude in a red velvet suit. Chicano activists realized that what was missing was a Santa that reflected the culture and ethnicity of their people. Thus Pancho Claus was born. It caught on in big cities like San Antonio, Houston, and Austin as well as in the Rio Grande Valley. The beauty of Santa Claus is that he can be many things to different people. He can be easily adapted to suit the needs of local communities. For example, growing up I had no idea what a sleigh was. It snowed like 5 times in Houston my entire life. I also had never seen a reindeer except at the zoo. I understand that Santa is coming from the North Pole and that he’s bringing that stuff with him, but still it seems very foreign. Now, if Santa shows up in a cart pulled by a burrito named Chuy, that I can understand.

Some people might ask if it really matters what color Santa is. Most kids will climb into the lap of a Santa of any color or ethnicity. It’s we adults that have the hang-ups. Still, it’s human nature to want to see ourselves represented in our traditions. That’s what makes them our traditions and not their traditions. There is something empowering about that. Why should Santa belong to only the suburban White kid and not the inner city Black child or the niño in the barrio? I hope Pancho spreads to other Latino communities around the country. Maybe, in Miami Pancho Claus could wear a guayabera and drive a 57 Chevy. I can envision a Nuyorican Pancho Claus handing out glasses of non-alcoholic coquito to all the kids in Spanish Harlem. So, you better watch out, homey. Pancho Claus is coming to town.

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