Identity

All I Want Is an Asian Santa for Christmas

December 13, 2017
Koji Steven Sakai

Whether you like it or not, the holidays are upon us. Ever since my child was born we’ve visited the mall for our yearly, obligatory crying picture with Santa. At the mall we go to, there is only ever a Caucasian Santa. I’ve heard stories where parents get to choose between an African American or Caucasian one. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to make such a choice. On a side note, I think I’d choose the African American Santa.

To be historically accurate, the real Santa probably looked more olive skinned than anything. And technically, since Saint Nicholas was born in Greece, which is Asia minor, he should be considered Asian. Don’t believe me? Take a look at my 8Asians article, “Is Santa Asian?”

But my visit to Santa this year got me thinking: What if we could go to a place that had an Asian Santa? Is it important to my son’s development as an Asian American? Does it matter? Am I overthinking this? I’m not going to argue that having an Asian Santa would help define a kid’s identity, but I don’t think it would hurt. I mean, an Asian Santa is just as historically accurate as the rosy cheeked, white-haired, fair-skinned one we see all over the place.

"What if we could go to a place that had an Asian Santa? Is it important to my son’s development as an Asian American? Does it matter?"

It would be one thing if the Asian/Asian American kid could look around and see other people like him in popular culture –– movies, television, and other forms of popular culture. But there just isn’t a lot of role models who are Asian, despite the current renaissance of Asian Americans on television. I recently spent some time in the library, looking at biographies of famous historical figures. At first, I was pleased to see how diverse the subjects of the books were, from Fredrick Douglas, to Nelson Mandela, to Sonia Sotomayor, but after a bit of looking I realized that there was not a single Asian/Asian American person in the group.

"At first, I was pleased to see how diverse the subjects of the books were, from Fredrick Douglas, to Nelson Mandela, to Sonia Sotomayor, but after a bit of looking I realized that there was not a single Asian/Asian American person in the group."

To my school’s credit, they did have The Journal of Ben Uchida, which made it sting a little less.

This is why one of the proudest things I ever did while programing at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) was to have an Asian American Santa every December. In fact, some years I even dressed up as Santa.

It’s just a little thing, I know. But I remember parents telling me that they looked forward to visiting the museum every year to see Asian Santa. According to one, I was their favorite Santa. They were probably just being nice.

"It’s just a little thing, I know. But I remember parents telling me that they looked forward to visiting the museum every year to see Asian Santa. According to one, I was their favorite Santa. They were probably just being nice."

I’m pretty sure Asian Santa doesn’t visit JANM anymore. But I’ve heard of two other Asian Santas—one in Seattle at the Wing Museum and Shogun Santa in Little Tokyo Village in Downtown Los Angeles. I tried to look up the schedule of when Shogun Santa is there, but couldn’t find anything. However, I recently saw pictures of him on Instagram, so he’s still there

Photo credit: Rafu Shimpo
"But as a parent of an Asian American kid, I want to have him look up to people that look like him —even if they are fictional. I don’t want him to feel different, in a bad way. It’s important to expose him to Asian/Asian Americans he can look up to — Santa or someone else, it doesn’t matter."

I know this is a losing battle. I could imagine non-Asian parents around the country up in arms about an Asian Santa. I see the headlines now: “The War Against Christmas! Yellow Peril!” But as a parent of an Asian American kid, I want to have him look up to people that look like him —even if they are fictional. I don’t want him to feel different, in a bad way. It’s important to expose him to Asian/Asian Americans he can look up to — Santa or someone else, it doesn’t matter. Now that I think of it, I think we’ll go to Little Tokyo next week to see Shogun Santa. Who’s coming with me? 

Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.