Generations of kids have received a gift from Pancho Clause, the barrio version of Santa Claus who rolls a lowrider through Houston's historically Latino neighborhoods. His presence has been a Bayou City tradition for 40 years.
Richard Reyes, 69, who plays the Latino St. Nick character says he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be able to do it, so he’s been teaching a few people to don the Christmas-red zoot suit. Despite a health scare two years ago, while doing a toy cruise, and a number of visits to the hospital over the years, Reyes continues to run toy drives and coordinate deliveries on Christmas.
“This year, what I'm going to do-we always take off in a toy cruise on Christmas day and go through the barrios - I'm going to have three different little lowrider clubs, and a police escort. One is going to Alvin, one going to maybe South Houston, and then me. And they're going to be dressed like Pancho Clauses.”
He says he wanted to get the community used to seeing various Pancho Clauses cruising around during the Christmas holiday.
He’ll be holding a toy drive this weekend in partnership with the Day of Unity event, a concert on November 14 meant to celebrate Houston’s diversity, and featuring some of the top local hip-hop stars.
The Day of Unity also celebrates the Dope House music label, in past years it was also a concert to celebrate the birthday of Carlos Coy, South Park Mexican, the groundbreaking rapper who was sentenced to prison in 2002 as a sex offender.
Pancho Claus holds year-round events to get ready for Christmas, including fundraisers and toy drives. Last year, Reyes says, was especially hard due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which crippled the restaurant sponsors he usually counts on.
“I really think when I'm gone, they're gonna have to hire somebody just to make appearances. Somebody who can sing, somebody who can act, you know? Who knows?” ponders Reyes.
He’s already started grooming his son and others to play Pancho Claus. The character is part of a legend that’s often replicated in other barrios across the country, but Reyes has held it down for Houston since the 1980s. And getting older won’t stop him, he wants to make sure that Pancho Claus lives on.
Pancho Claus Toy Drive, 1105 Providence Street, Sunday, November 7, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, www.instagram.com/panchoclaushouston