Pancho and Shorty

Pancho needs your prayers, it's true, but save a few for Shorty, too. He just did what he had to do, and now he's growing old. The battle of barrio Christmas.

Pancho and Shorty

For 16 years, during every daylight hour of every Christmas Day, Richard Reyes, known as "Pancho Claus," would don a red-and-black zoot suit, shades and a fedora, stand in the bed of Sotero "Shorty" Villarreal's pickup truck and ride through the streets, dispensing gifts.

Flanked by a phalanx of eight lowriders from Villarreal's Latin Fantasy car club and accompanied by volunteer constables from Victor Trevino's Precinct 6, Pancho Claus and his eight hopping and dancing mechanical reindeer would cruise the most desperate barrios of the Bayou City from Magnolia Park to the northside and all points in between, handing out toys to the children of the deported, the incarcerated, the deceased. For many of these kids, it was all they would get every Christmas.

But in 2009, trouble arrived in the form of a lowrider painted red, white and green — the colors of both Mexico and Christmas. The car is more than Reyes's mode of transportation; he says he gets a $25,000 yearly salary to make appearances in it and promote the company, Taxis Fiesta.

Sotero "Shorty" Villarreal says parting ways with Pancho Claus was the right and just thing to do. Others cast him as Santa's most resentful elf, jealous of the attention his former partner in barrio Christmas was so adept at attracting.
Marco Torres
Sotero "Shorty" Villarreal says parting ways with Pancho Claus was the right and just thing to do. Others cast him as Santa's most resentful elf, jealous of the attention his former partner in barrio Christmas was so adept at attracting.
Richard "Pancho Claus" Reyes says that a lifetime of good works can be ruined by one man's hateful words damaging his reputation. For Reyes, that man is Shorty Villarreal.
Marco Torres
Richard "Pancho Claus" Reyes says that a lifetime of good works can be ruined by one man's hateful words damaging his reputation. For Reyes, that man is Shorty Villarreal.

He wanted to ride this sweet vintage convertible Cadillac in the front of Villarreal's annual Juguetes Para el Barrio cruise, but Shorty was having none of that.

"We've done the toy drive the same way for years, and he gets paid to make appearances in the cab," says Villarreal. "Then he wanted it to be in the front, and we told him no. We told him it could be anywhere but the front. We were the ones raisin' the money, we're the ones busting our ass, and if the cab is in the front, whose parade is it? It belongs to Taxis Fiesta; at least that's the way people would see it."

An argument followed. Nasty accusations were cast. And even today, three years later, the bad blood remains. To Villarreal, Pancho is no Santa, but instead a selfish Grinch del Barrio. As he puts it, "This is a Robin Hood story. Reyes is stealin' from the rich and robbin' from the 'hood."

Reyes's supporters, and they are many, see the fight in other terms. To them, it could be that it is a story as old as Christmas itself...

"It's like the elves saying, 'We built all the toys and Santa gets all the credit,'" says local community activist Bryan Parras.

"Or the sleigh maker complaining about not getting some limelight for making Santa's sleigh," adds KPFT-FM Nuestra Palabra co-host (and former Houston Press intern) Liana Lopez.
_____________________

Richard Reyes is trim, 61 years old, goateed and wearing a tight black short-sleeve checkered shirt. He grew up in the Heights, a few streets away from teenage serial killer Elmer Wayne Henley, who he says once tried to lure him to a party where he would have been butchered. Back then, Reyes was a taxi driver for real, and Henley tried to persuade him to take another cabby's fare and drive him to Pasadena, where Dean Corll awaited with his drugs and torture boards. "It was my honesty that saved me," Reyes says. "Henley made the 'party' seem like fun, but I just would not take another driver's fare."

Along with his civic activism, Reyes has also acted, most frequently onstage at Talento Bilingüe de Houston and elsewhere, but also on the silver screen. Back in the 1990s, he had a knack for finding his way into some of the most critically acclaimed films of the Clinton era. He landed bit parts in John Sayles's Lone Star alongside Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey, and also in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. "I tell my kids — I mean, my students — I once broke Owen Wilson's nose," he says. "They say I am a liar, and then I show them the scene," he laughs. Reyes also appeared in RoboCop 2 and Bad Girls, a western about gun-toting prostitutes on the run that starred Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore and Madeleine Stowe. To know Richard Reyes is to bring yourself several degrees closer to Kevin Bacon without ever leaving Houston.

Back in 1981, Reyes created his own version of a borderlands barrio fusion of Santa with Mexican-American traditions. In other, less urban and sophisticated cities and towns, Pancho Claus appears in a poncho and sombrero, but Reyes's rendition was far more uptown, if only a little less old-school.

Carrying a long golden watch fob, Reyes's Pancho Claus sometimes fronts a horn-heavy big band, complete with hip-hop dancers, and they perform tropical-sounding Spanglish renditions of Yuletide classics such as "Pancho Claus Is Comin' to Town." The character was originated in the 1950s by East L.A. old-school zoot suit vato Eduardo "Lalo" Guerrero, a.k.a. "The Father of Chicano Music." His single "Pancho Claus" was a hit in the nation's barrios and inspired Reyes's version years later.

Reyes's Pancho Claus debuted in a play of his own composition at Talento Bilingüe, the East End arts venue Reyes directed for decades. In the play, since there are so few chimneys in this subtropical clime, Pancho Claus delivered toys by sneaking in through the windows of homes in Houston's barrios. And since Reyes's play featured lines like "When what to my wondering eye should appear, but eight lowrider cars all jacked down in the rear!" it seemed a natural for him and Villarreal to team up on Christmas Day.

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18 comments
texasmovieshd
texasmovieshd

ORALE MIS CARNALES, RICHARD AND SHORTY, YA LUVO CON LAS BRONCAS ESES. EL PURBLO CHICANO LOS QUIEREN VERLOS A LOS DOS JUNTOS - NO SEPARADOS. PAZ MIS CARNALES Y ADELANTE CON EL SHOW PARA LOS CHAVALITOS, OKAY ESES. jjgarciahdmovies@gmial.com

texasmovieshd
texasmovieshd

RICHARD HAS ALSO APPEARED IN MY FIRST MOVIE;"Tino:Innercity Cop", FEATURING THE LATE FREDDY FENDER SINGING HIS THREE MEGA HITS, "Before The Next Teardrop Falls", "Wasted Days, Wasted Nights", & "Once I Had A Secret Love" I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE PROBLEM IS BETWEEN MY TWO CHICANO BROTHERS, "SHORTY" VILLARREAL & RICHARD?  I DO HOPE THERE IS PEACE IN THE BARRIOS, AS I AM ALSO A SON OF A BARRIO IN CORPUS CHRISTI, AND BRIEFLY FROM MAGNOLIA PARK  TOO, BEFORE I LEFT FOR THE MARINE CORPS. RICHARD IS A FINE PERSON, AND I JUST DON'T KNOW WHY HE IS INVOLVED WITH THAT CORRUPT COP, VICTOR TREVINO? WELL I RESPECT RICHARD, AND I AM VERY SURE RICHARD IS NOT INVOLVED IN THE SHENANIGANS OF THE INDICTED AND SHAMELESS, VICTOR TREVINO. PEACE MY BROTHERS, RICHARD AND "SHORTY".

miss_msry
miss_msry topcommenter

First dueling MLK parades, now dueling Pancho Clauses.   Just WOW.

SantaGrits
SantaGrits like.author.displayName 1 Like

Mr. Lomax seems to enjoy the "if you don't have something nice to say, come sit next to me" approach to journalism.

I, for one, look forward to Latin Fantasy's annual Toy Drive at the Orange Show Saturday evening so I can fork over some toys and dinero for the kiddos.

itstdl
itstdl

grow UP gentlemen. 

sixduce
sixduce like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I am a member of the Latin Fantasy car club and i was present during the interview with Shorty. If you have any questions as to what was said i'm sure Mr. Lomax wont mind replaying his recorder. There was some questions Shorty didnt feel comfortable answering because he didnt want to say anything negative. There was also some things that the writer tried to get Shorty to say. Now Shorty nor anyone from Latin Fantasy asked for this article, we were contacted by the Houston Press about an article about our toy drive.

Also i was there on Christmas eve when you decided not to be apart of our toy drive unless you got to ride in front with the Cadillac. Shorty told you that you could ride anywhere in the line but the front, but you insisted to be in front or you wouldnt go at all. The following year when it was brought to the clubs attention that you requested to be apart of our Christmas tradition the club held a vote. And the club AS A WHOLE agreed to decline your request.

richard393
richard393

As I told the writer at the beginning, middle and end of the interview…whenever I have been told thatShorty is bad-mouthing me, I always have the same reply. “I have nothing bad tosay about Shorty, he does a lot of good in the community and I just amdisappointed about his comments.”  However I did have to respond whenapproached by the Houston Press.  For someone like Shorty, who “doesn’tcare about publicity” in the area of full disclosure and conflict of interest,it was Shorty and his friend, Houston Press photographer, Marco Torres, who wentto the Houston Press with this story.  To me, Shorty made a decision for menot to participate in his cruise and I was OK with that. This is a far cry fromthe Houston Press description of …” A bitter fight” 

  Also, as Shorty would confirm and asthe writer omitted, I offered to gladly ride in the back of the parade with thelow-rider but Shorty insisted that I would have to ride in the back of histruck for 8 hours. I did that gladly for many years in drizzle, cold andpotholes…but as a man in his sixties it was just an unsafe thing to keep ondoing. Shorty will remember that when I turned 50 I gave him a ten yearnotice about riding in the back of the truck. That was long before Taxis Fiestacame into the scene. Shorty gave me the ultimatum to ride in the front on thetruck or not participate at all.It was not my fault, Shorty, that again, The Houston Press decided the cover photo was of Pancho Claus and not you. …something I did not want or ask for. 

…and finally, it is true, I do notbuy the Christmas presents I give out throughout the whole month ofDecember.  The citizens and communitiesdonate the presents I deliver.  I am justblessed to be the messenger.  Thank youHouston and Feliz Navidad !

MarcoFromHouston
MarcoFromHouston

@richard393 "...in the area of full disclosure and conflict of interest, it was Shorty and his friend, Houston Press photographer, Marco Torres, who went to the Houston Press with this story."

Shorty was not the one who "went to the Houston Press with this story". The story idea was mine alone. I pitched it to the HPress, and provided the photos. Before the interview, I had met Shorty only once. There is/was no conflict of interest. I also believe that John Lomax did an excellent job writing a very balanced feature.

"It was not my fault, Shorty, that again, The Houston Press decided the cover photo was of Pancho Claus and not you. …"

It was only natural that a story about Pancho Claus required a photo of Pancho Claus on the cover. At no time did we consider Shorty for the cover. Thank you for agreeing to be photographed, I think the cover looks great.

75thStreetChica
75thStreetChica like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

"Filmmaker, writer and activist (and former Pancho Claus manager) Carlos Calbillo baldly states that he would take a bullet for Reyes."  And of course, anyone who would take a bullet for you, is completely objective. No bias there, right? 

Like most people in the Houston Hispanic community, I've got much love for Macario Ramirez and appreciate all that he's done for the city, but this is one time I've got to disagree with Mr. Ramirez. Pancho Claus, the character, might be important for the community; Richard Reyes, the individual who admits he never bought a toy to give to a kid but wants to be compensated for his "appearance," ah, not so much.

There's a difference between being a "spokesperson" like Pancho Claus and being an "organizer" like Shorty. One "appears" and the other "works." Guess which one does the most good?

laportecadillac
laportecadillac like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Richard Reyes is a shameless self-promoting fraud. He puts on a front of he is just in it for the kids but his pockets come first. I have no problem with a man making a living but don't put on an act that you don't care about the money, when you clearly do. This is not the first toy drive he has attempted to take over. About ten years ago a local group of car clubs, not affiliated with Latin Fantasy, planned a toy drive at the TBH center. When we approached Pancho Clause he agreed to let us hold the toy drive in the parking lot of the TBH "free of charge" on the condition that he could sell food at the event and we agreed. He then told us we would need to put a $350 security deposit to cover the cost of cleanup if we did not clean up, still no problem. As the day approached the weather turned bad and the event had to be called off due to rain. When we explained this to Reyes he informed us that we would not be getting our deposit back. He claimed it was to cover the cost of the concession items he purchased for the event, there was not even an offer of splitting the loss. So thanks to his greed we had $250 less to spend on toys but we proceeded without the aid of pancho clown.

markesquivel36
markesquivel36 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I too am a member of Latin Fantasy Car Club,without Shorty,Sheila and Latin fantasy members this yearly event couldnt be possible.It is alot of work, time and dedication but its all worth it on Christmas Day when you see kids running to you from every direction with smiles on their faces and asking if they can take pictures with us and our cars.ITS ALL FOR THE KIDS!!!!!!!!! thats better than any media time!!!!!!!!!!!!     

isela092278
isela092278 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I consider myself and all the Latin Fantasy Car Club members " Devoted Elves" . We don't need the reputation or acknowledgment of Poncho Claus, to do what we do for the kids! I have been part of Jugestes Para El Barrio for now 21 years and have rode in the front vehicle to help pass out toys. Shorty, Sheila and Latin Fantasy Car Club do what they do for THE KIDS and that is all that matters. For those that say that Shorty Villarreal is not as important as Reyes, really don't know Shorty, the way his family, friends and followers do. I will ride this Christmas Day again just see all the smiling faces of the thousands of children we touch with the toys we provide to them on Christmas. There is a lot of preparation and hard work that this club does to make this a success for the kids!

Show your support for the Kids, Shorty and Latin Fantasy Car Club by coming by Sunday, 12/2/12 to our Car Show in front of Pep Boys Auto Parts at 909 N. Loop West. You never know we might be in your neighborhood on Christmas Day.

All my love and support for those that help the kids with no media and monetary recognition!

75thStreetChica
75thStreetChica like.author.displayName 1 Like

I only got one question - how can I get my cash donation to Shorty?

isela092278
isela092278 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@75thStreetChica Please come by the Car Show on Sunday, 12/2/12. Thanks for your support!

GrowUp
GrowUp like.author.displayName 1 Like

"He has let it be known that he would be glad to ride with Latin Fantasyagain, but only on the stipulation that he get to ride in the Caddy atthe front of the parade."

Sounds like Pancho Claus has gotten too big for his pantalones rojos and has forgotten what it's all about. The kids.

GrowUp
GrowUp like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

"He has let it be known that he would be glad to ride with Latin Fantasyagain, but only on the stipulation that he get to ride in the Caddy atthe front of the parade."

Sounds like Pancho Claus has gotten too big for his pantalones rojos and has forgotten what it's all about to me...

 
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