posted by Joe Anaya on December 17th, 2012

One of my proudest moments as a parent came when my son was in preschool. It was December and I came to pick up my kid at the end of the day. I noticed that the walls were covered with newly painted Santa Clause pictures. As a kid, I loved to draw and paint. So, I was excited to see children’s new artwork. But there was something unusual about the pictures; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I shared the usual greetings with his teacher, a young African-American woman. She sheepishly confides her tale of making the Santa pictures with the kids. “I was demonstrating how to use the water colors; the hat is red, the eyes are blue. When I painted the skin, I just chose brown for my Santa because my skin is brown.” But when she turned around, the room full of 4-year-olds was painting their Santas with brown skin. She whispered while reliving the moment, “I didn’t want to tell them to stop or start over.” I scan the wall and realize that the room is full of African-American Santa Clauses. I laugh hardily, “That’s hilarious.”

As a person who makes a living by being creative, I tend to value divergent thinking more than most, even if it is unintentional. She was a little nervous. “I don’t want the parents to think I’m some kind of radical Black Panther or something.” A room full of white preschoolers painting Black Santas is right up my alley. I assure her it’ll be fine. No parent is going to critique their kid’s painting. And, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” “That’s easy for you to say,” she counters.

I guess she’s right, first of all, I’m Mexican and Japanese, so I like the idea of a brown-skinned Kris Kringle, and more importantly I don’t have to listen to the other parents complain about how I’m subverting their child’s image of Christmas. “Better you than me,” I tease her. “No, I meant it’s easy for you because your son didn’t do what everyone else did.” She points behind me.

I turn to see a Santa with a purple hat and suit, green pompoms and blue skin. My grin grows so quickly and large, it hurts my face. “Your son marches to the beat of his own drum.”

Now that my son is in middle school, he is more concerned with not standing out. But I’m hopeful that when he’s older, the kid who just did his own thing despite what he was told or what everyone else was doing will return and allow him to break ground in new directions. And if he’s considered a little out of step, well, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”

File Under King of the Castle