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Pancho Claus: A Tex-mex Santa From The South Pole

Pancho Claus: A Tex-Mex Santa from the South Pole.

HOUSTON (AP) — He usually has black hair and a black beard, sometimes just a mustache. Like Santa, he wears a hat — though often it’s a sombrero. He dons a serape or a poncho and, in one case, a red and black zoot suit. And he makes his grand entrance on lowriders or Harleys or led by a pack of burros instead of eight reindeer.

Meet Pancho Claus, the Tex-Mex Santa.

Amid all the talk about Santa Claus’ race, spawned by a Fox News commentator’s remarks that both Santa and Jesus were white, there is, in the Lone Star State, a Hispanic version of Santa in cities from the border to the plains — handing out gifts for low-income and at-risk children.

Born from the Chicano civil rights movement, Pancho Claus is a mostly Texas thing, historians say, though there may be one somewhere in California. Lorenzo Cano, a Mexican-American studies scholar at the University of Houston, says Pancho was apparently conceived north of the border as Mexican-Americans looked to “build a place and a space for themselves” in the 1970s. His rise coincided with a growing interest in Mexican art, Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day and other cultural events.

Now, Pancho is an adored Christmas fixture in many Texas cities.

“We have kids that we ask, ‘Did Santa Claus come to see you?’ and they say, ‘No he didn’t. But Pancho Claus did,’” says Robert Narvaiz, vice commander for Lubbock’s American GI Forum and coordinator of that city’s Pancho project.

Each city’s Pancho has a unique local flavor, but all share roots that set Pancho apart from Santa. Here’s a look at just a few. Oh, and Feliz Navidad, amigos.

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PANCHO IN THE PLAINS

In the West Texas plains, Pancho Claus is Pancho Clos, so as not to be confused with that other Mr. C.

“Pancho Claus comes from the South Pole, and Santa Claus comes from the North Pole, and every year they get together here in Lubbock,” says Narvaiz. “Santa … was he Anglo? Was he black? Was he Hispanic? I guess everybody is trying to do the same thing: Add a little of their own culture.”

‘Pancho Claus’ Spreads Holiday Cheer in HoustonPlay video'Pancho Claus' Spreads Holiday Cheer in Houston

This city’s Pancho dates to 1971, when the local American GI Forum decided to infuse a little Hispanic culture into Santa. They gave him a sombrero and serape, and held a big party at a park, giving out candy and fruit to 3,000 children.

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