Pachno Clause: A Chicano Folk Hero

Host Alex Cohen talks to Rudy Martinez, a San Antonio-based Pancho Claus, about the Chicano spin on the traditional icon of Christmas.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

And now a holiday tradition from the Lone Star state. It's Santa's cousin from the barrio, Pancho Clause. From San Antonio, we're joined now by Rudy Martinez. He is one of many guys through out Texas who takes on the role of Pancho Clause. Merry Christmas, Rudy.

Mr. RUDY MARTINEZ: Merry Christmas to you.

COHEN: So explain for us who is Pancho Clause.

Mr. MARTINEZ: Pancho Clause is Santa's cousin from the South.

COHEN: From the South Pole?

Mr. MARTINEZ: From the South Pole, yes. That is correct.

COHEN: And what does he do, we know Santa rides on the sleigh with the reindeer, what does Pancho Clause do?

Mr. MARTINEZ: Well, Pancho Clause travels on a cart drawn by little burritos, like my cousin Santa has the bright red sleigh pulled by reindeer, and of course, he has his favorite reindeer named Rudolph. Well, I have a favorite burrito. His name is Chewey(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: I love it. Does Chewey have a special nose, too?

Mr. MARTINEZ: He has red ears, not a red nose.

COHEN: Excellent. How did all of this get started, this particular legend?

Mr. MARTINEZ: Well, it started with a legend in Mexico where two little children were working in their family garden. They were wishing for nice gifts from their parents, but they could not make up their mind what they really wanted, so all of a sudden, a fairy godmother appeared, and she granted them one wish and one wish only. So the kids thought and thought what they really, really wanted for Christmas. So, they finally decided and told their fairy godmother that their only wish for Christmas was that every child in Mexico and in the entire world would have a very merry Christmas.

So the fairy godmother was really, really surprised at this. These two little poor kids had said that is all that they would wish for. So the fairy godmother was really lost at what, you know, what she could really provide for them. She thought and thought, and finally she thought of Pancho Clause. Pancho Clause would bring joy and happiness to all the kids in Mexico and in the entire world, and this is how Pancho Clause was born.

COHEN: So you dress up as Pancho Clause each year, what do you wear?

Mr. MARTINEZ: Well, basically the same outfit as my cousin Santa, the basic red suit. But the difference is that I have a bright red sombrero and a pancho and the main difference is the black beard. I do not have a white beard like my cousin Santa, and the black beard, of course, is because I am much younger than my cousin.

COHEN: Aha! So what do the kids say when they see Pancho Clause? What role do - does he fill for them?

Mr. MARTINEZ: I do a lot of visits to children's events, especially schools, and I always bring the message that they should always have respect for their teachers or parents or grandparents, and to really study hard, work hard to get their education.

COHEN: I understand that when you visit with kids there in Texas, like Santa Clause, a lot of kids will make request to you for presents. What have you been hearing this year?

Mr. MARTINEZ: Mainly electronic games, but sometimes I get really touching requests like children's parents that are in jail, one, or the other. And sometimes they just ask if I can just bring their parents home.

COHEN: Rudy Martinez, a.k.a Pancho Clause, spoke to us from San Antonio, Texas. Happy holidays, Rudy.

Mr. MARTINEZ: Thank you very much. Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo.

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