For 16 years, Richard "Pancho Claus" Reyes and Shorty Villarreal were partners in barrio Christmas. Pancho was the zoot-suited Santa Claus figure, while lowrider expert Villarreal provided his sleigh (a pick-up truck), his reindeer (eight lowriders belonging to Villarreal's Latin Fantasy car club, and the thousands of toys and goodie bags Villarreal and his car club collected and sorted in the months leading up to Christmas. Every Christmas morning this caravan would head to Houston's neediest barrios and dispense cheer and toys to some of Houston's poorest kids, many of whom would receive little or nothing else that year.
A few years ago, their relationship fell apart. Accusations flew on all sides. Villarreal accused Reyes, a renowned local and national actor and activist, of profiteering from the event and putting his ego in front of helping kids, and Reyes and his supporters characterized Villarreal as being jealous of Reyes's ability to seize the limelight. Some have portrayed him as Santa's most resentful elf, while Villarreal claims that Reyes is a Robin Hood figure, in that he "steals from the rich, and robs from the 'hood."
Now the two men lead separate toy drives, and it seems no peace can ever be brokered between them.
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Read more in this week's cover story, Pancho and Shorty.