I was a junior at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1968 when my younger brother Mano convinced me to go home the 200 miles to be Santa Claus for some very poor families and that I would dress up as a brown Santa. I resisted, but Mano insisted that I needed to do this. His Catholic church group and the priest organized this project, and I would be a part of it.
I finally agreed and decided to drive down and be part of this event. Also, I knew Father Charlie Horn, the priest, and I appreciated him working with the Latino youth.
The night had come, and it was cold; we had all gathered there at Saint Mary’s church. The food donations had not been as plentiful as we had expected, so the excellent priest, along with Lydia Vela and Teresa Saldana, my cousin, were going to go down to Thaxton’s grocery store to get more canned goods.
Meanwhile, the rest of us stayed behind to continue filling out the packages for the selected families, including some toys.
Twenty minutes later, we got an unexpected call telling us that Father Horn had been in a car accident just outside of Thaxton’s and that the two girls, plus the priest, had been taken into hospitals around.
We were all shocked to hear this news. My Brother Mano and a couple of others jumped into my car and made a dash to Thaxton’s. There we saw the two cars. Father Horns suffered the worst damage; the engine was still sending up clouds of steam and police cars were everywhere..
Canned goods recently purchased were painted with the blood of our friends. Upon arrival, we were told that Lydia had died and that Teresa had been sent 21 miles away to La Junta, which had a better hospital.
Soon, under Manos’s direction, we were picking up the canned goods. We were going to visit the families and then go to La Junta to check on Teresa. At the church, we cleaned the blood off of the cans as tears streamed down our cheeks.
Mano insisted that the show had to go on. The children and the families were waiting for Santa. My brother Mano pushed us to be strong and not disappoint the families. I slipped into the cheap Santa outfit, and away we went. These poor and needy families had never had Santa come to their homes. While what we gave was not much, it was given from one heart to another.
We visited as many homes as possible, and we felt stronger after seeing the smiles of the families. And there were big smiles on the children’s faces.
By the time we got to La Junta, it was close to midnight, and we discovered our aunt Teresa’s mom was already there and that Teresa was seriously injured but would survive.
Later, we were told that it was a drunk student from an elite white family that had hit Father’s car head-on and that it was just a Mexican-American who was a student who had died. The young man who caused the accident was never prosecuted—another awful moment of racism in our town.
After that, I played Santa for many community groups who needed someone chubby with a loud voice that could belt out a loud Ho Ho Ho!
Today, I want a brown Christmas with our own version of Santa coming on to a park or playground in a Taco Truck decorated with Red, White, and Green colors. Those are the colors of the Mexican flag, with many blinking lights decorating the outside.
On the loudspeakers would be playing Jose Feliciano’s song Feliz Navidad. Soon, the audience would be singing along. Out of two vans following the Taco Truck would spring a lively group of elves, and they would begin dancing to the music.
Then, the mariachis would stroll out and play Mexican songs, and some elves would do the appropriate dances. Then, from the back of the Taco Truck would come the Aztec Dancers, with their colorful costumes, rhythmic drumming, and amazing dances.
At last, our Barrio Santa would come out of the Taco Truck with a large bag filled with candies and small toys. Pancho Claus, or was it Chicano Claus? He would be decked out in a red, white, and green outfit, with a serape over his shoulder.
Following him, the elves would come pulling wagons filled to the brim with toys and gifts for everyone. They would set up a big chair with a colorful cover on a platform so that kids could have their picture taken with Pancho Claus. And he in turn, would give them a $10 gift certificate to a local taco truck.
By this time, lines would have formed along the buffet tables to get enchiladas, green chili, rice, beans, tamales, and, of course, flour and corn tortillas. And then, of course, Mexican sweet pieces of bread would be provided for dessert. Smiles would be on everyone’s face.
Later, with Feliz Navidad playing softly in the background, the families would gather their children and gifts and make their way home. Amongst the families would be the different ethnicities of the rainbow, given the many cross-cultural marriages and friendships.
There are a lot of good holiday traditions, and I want to add my own twist to this holiday period. Viva to all the Holiday Saints who bring us love and hope!