0

Bilingual Santa Claus hears all wishes

LAWRENCEVILLE

Every child knows a few things about Santa: He lives at the North Pole, he flies a sleigh, he has lots of toys for good kids and coal for bad ones.

Here's something else: St. Nick speaks Spanish.

Aranza and Azael Carcamo were among the many Latino children this past week who visited Santa at Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. In fluent Spanish, Santa asked their mother if they've been good. Having got the OK, Santa said he would bring them toys.

Aranza and Azael promised to send Santa a thank-you letter in Spanish.

"It's wonderful that he can communicate with kids of all languages," their mother, Mexican immigrant Adriana Carcamo, said through a translator. "He was able to interact with them in Spanish, and that made the experience more meaningful to me."

Santa is actually Randy Parsons, who works for Noerr Program, a talent company that supplies Santas locally to Gwinnett Place and the Mall of Georgia in Buford. Parsons would not reveal much about himself - Noerr discourages him from going out of character on the job - but said he picked up Spanish in part by taking classes and living abroad.

While Noerr could not say how many bilingual Santas it employs, "they are a definite asset to us, particularly in Texas, " said spokeswoman Ruth Rosenquist.

The company also has black Santas in select markets, Rosenquist said.

Gwinnett Place is centered in an increasingly diverse area along Pleasant Hill Road, where the Hispanic population is one of many flourishing minorities. Although nearly half the children who came for a picture with Santa at Gwinnett Place were Hispanic, the mall did not ask Noerr to send them a bilingual Kris Kringle.

"It happened by accident, but it has worked out really well," said Gwinnett Place Marketing Director Shelly Korenbrot.

"It only adds the spirit of Christmas because you see that Santa can do anything, including speak any language," Korenbrot said.

Maria Garcia and other Latino parents appear to get the most joy from Santa's bilingual ability. Many beamed when Santa asked how their children behaved this year and whether they deserved toys or coal.

"I want all Santas to speak Spanish," Garcia said.