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Merry Christmas from Pancho Claus

I’m sorry I missed this.

They drove through Houston’s barrios Christmas morning in low-riders that jerked up from the pavement, blaring horns as loud as those on a train and wearing wildly-colored zoot suits that screamed for attention.

Children ran. Dogs barked. Police sirens wailed.

It was sheer joy.

Once again, hundreds of families in some of Houston’s Hispanic neighborhoods received a bit of raucous holiday cheer Thursday from local hero “Pancho Claus” and his friends in low gear.

The procession of 10 souped-up cars wound its way through the streets of the East End, the north side and the Heights from morning into the afternoon, dispensing toys and smiles to many children who found nothing under their Christmas trees.

“We’re trying to give them a Christmas surprise,” yelled Richard Reyes from the bed of a pickup piled high with toys as dozens of children gleefully clamored for gifts. “To some of these kids, this will be the only gift they have.”

Reyes, a 52-year-old actor, has become legendary in the barrios for his annual Christmas appearances as Pancho Claus. Donning a red zoot suit with a matching red tie and a black fedora, the tall and goateed Reyes easily stood out from the couple of dozen helpers who wore more subdued suits or regular clothing with Santa hats.

Reyes said this was his 20th consecutive Christmas passing out presents as Pancho Claus. Members of the Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club took part for their 12th annual appearance. For several years, Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino has provided officers to accompany the procession of cars.

“We’re very thankful and happy for the presents,” said J. Refugio Hernandez from the porch of his home on Runnels at Everton. “The economy is bad and I lost my job, so I wasn’t able to buy my (four) kids presents.”

Jasmine Corona grinned as she ran back to her mother clutching a baton covered in colorful sparkles.

“I’m very happy,” the 7-year-old said shyly.

“Christmas is a little better,” said her mother, Aurora Corona.

Pancho Claus is a revered icon in many Hispanic areas in Texas, but he typically wears a red poncho and a large sombrero in serving as a symbolic bridge between Latino and Anglo cultures.

Reyes said he thought of the zoot suit get-up to infuse cultural pride in the poor neighborhoods he visits. The outfits, which consist of baggy pants and matching-color jackets, were popular in the 1940s, and often were worn by Mexican-Americans and blacks.

“We want to give the kids something to look at with pride and let them know we have a history in fashion,” Reyes said.

Reyes, who operates the Web site panchoclaus.com, has an acting troupe that performs Pancho Claus plays throughout Houston. He also plays in a rhythm and blues band with the same name.

He said he could not reach so many children and give so many presents without the help of two primary sponsors, Union Pacific and Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts.

The Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club raised $3,000 for the Christmas giveaway in a recent car show called Juguetes Para El Barrio, or “Toys for the Neighborhood.”

“I always ask people, ‘Do you believe in Santa Claus?’ ” said Sotero “Shorty” Villarreal, owner of Shorty’s Hydraulics low-rider shop, who distributed presents with his wife and four children Thursday. “If they say no, I tell them, ‘That’s the wrong answer.’ ”

You said it, dude.

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8 Comments

  1. Charles E says:

    Is it possible to be charitable without the donor using train horns to call attention to themselves?

  2. teannas porras says:

    Pancho Claus aka is better known for the quiet work he does in Houston. Feeding families, working with youth in detention center, providing scholarships.
    The train horns are the idea of car clubs who volunteer their rides for the occasion and lets face it the kids love the show rolling through their neighborhood. Also its a way to let them know Pancho Claus is coming into the nieghborhood and they wont be disappointed because they missed the unannouced vist.

  3. Carlos Varela says:

    I was 7 years old growing up in segundo barrio, my dad a hard working mexican, worked for a low paying job. At times they didnt pay him. It was hard for him to give a familia of six gifts for Christmas.For years it was hard for my brothers and sisters to believe in santa claus,when every other year we would recive gifts. Then one day a fiend of my mothers told her about this place where they gave away gifts for christmas. Little did we know what was waiting for us!I was sitting in the 4th row waiting for a show to come on. When i heard the doors behide me slam open and music playing loud I saw this man in a red suit swinging a gold chain in his left hand a standing proudly. I never seen nothing like that, ever in my life.It was Pancho Claus! I was stund. I never took my eyes off him. He put on a great show til this very day. I can still remember the feeling I felt that day that I started to believe in Pachuo Cluas, and every year after that day I saw your show.I just wanted to say thank you for bring a 7 years old kid hopes up in the barrio.I am now 24 years old.P.S I would like to help out in what ever I can, to keep Pancho Claus ALIVE !!!

  4. Eduardo Trevino says:

    Hi, my name is Eduardo Trevino and I first met Pancho Claus at Rusk Elementary when I was in the first grade. I really liked the small but thoughtful gifts he brought to me and to other kids around my neighborhood. These gifst were like small bits of hope that made me realize people wanted me to succeed and that people really cared about the Latinos in the Second Ward. I did not expect to write this much, but I talk alot when it comes to telling stories of good memories I had growing up. I am on the road of applying to College and I am asking for information on Scholarship Opportunities. This would really help me out, because my parents want me to pay for College all by myself and College can get pretty expensive. Thank you.

  5. Sarah says:

    I THINK THAT IT SO SO GREAT WHAT YOU ARE DOING FOR THE COMMUNITY I SAW YOU AT THE TEQUILA LOPEZ CAR SHOW WHEN YOU PREFORMED AND THOUGHT IT WAS AMAZING WHAT YOU DO AND ALL.

  6. Mechelle Simoneau says:

    I moved from Houston four years ago and now live in Buffalo, NY. I have told people here about Pancho Claus and they can’t get over it. I am online tonight to print out articles to take to people to read about how Pancho Claus has touched so many lives – not just in the barrios of Houston. Thank you.

  7. hi i am a mother of two kids a 3yr.old and a 10yrs.old. and i will be unable to buy christmass gifts for my children this year we have had a rough year. i find my self writing to you from the hospital where i have my mother she has been at hermon memorial sence nov.26,2004 and is still hear the doctors had given my mom only one week to live and we were scared my sister also has a 2yr.oldadughter and we haven’t got any gifts this year because when they told us about my mom we realy haven’t tought of any thing ealse. but i know that panchoclaus hashelpes many needy kids i want to ask him to please help me and my family so that our kids can have a good christmass. even though we have reciver bad news about our mother we know that god can turn things around and can give her a new liver forchristmass.and that would be the best christmass day every to have our mom good as new but if god decides he wants to take her we will accept that to. but please help us give our childern a christmass they can remember during this hard time. with lots of love Elizabeth Villarreal

  8. DOROTHY says:

    I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IS YOU GUYS CAN HOOK ME UP TO SOMEONE OR SOMEBODY THAT SELLS PANCHO CLAUS DOLLS. I HAVE BEEN BUYING SANTA CLAUS DOLLS FOR MY GRANDSON SINCE HE WAS 4 YEARS OLD, BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO FIND A PANCHO CLAUS. THANKS AND KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.