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Mall of America's first Asian American Santa Claus shares hope and love


There was a fatal shooting last night at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the largest mall in America. Just as people were getting some last-minute shopping in, a 19-year-old was killed inside a Nordstrom. For that teenager's family and for countless other families across the country, Christmas can be a hard holiday to celebrate for whatever reason. Allan Sui recognizes that Christmas can be heavy for some folks, and he's trying to do what he can to make it a little lighter.

ALLAN SUI: What I see Santa Claus right now is he's just a - you know, people see love in there. You know, it's like he doesn't judge. He listens. He's empathetic.

LIMBONG: He's the Mall of America's very first Asian American Santa Claus. His parents are from Hong Kong and don't celebrate Christmas. And growing up in Tulsa, Okla., the only Santas he knew didn't look like him. But he fell in love with the character one day.

SUI: The first time, I guess, Santa Claus really did come into my life was when I was in second grade, when, you know, apparently a customer at my family's restaurant would come. And he'd be like, hey, what did you get for Christmas? We didn't get anything. We were probably bad. So I guess it touched him somehow because the following year, presents showed up. And then we're like, oh, my gosh, Santa Claus came. So just that moment of happiness - Santa did come into my life. And then I was like, you know, that was a true sign of love, empathy, you know? It made such a difference that I was like, when I have children one day, I do want to be Santa Claus so I can make a difference in somebody's life like that person has made in mine.

LIMBONG: And now he's doing just that at the mall, like when he saw a family with two girls from Asia.

SUI: And they spoke Mandarin. I'm like, OK, my Mandarin isn't really - you know, it's up to par. So when I said Merry Christmas in Mandarin, the girl just snapped her head and goes, what? It was just surprising just to see that. And then, you know, it's like, just to make a difference, just to be able to converse with her, just - you know, it did spark her interest. So as little Mandarin as I spoke to her but the fact that, I guess, I knew some of it and could converse with her, it definitely made her family excited. And it did bring some joy to her.

LIMBONG: Merry Christmas in Mandarin, by the way, is?

SUI: (Speaking Mandarin). Cantonese - (speaking Cantonese). And then for the Hmong community - (speaking non-English language) - Merry Christmas.

LIMBONG: Allan Sui hopes that for this Christmas, Santa can bring some joy to a divided country.

SUI: It's unfortunate because, you know, we did see, you know, everyone come together during tragedy during 9/11, and it was great to see. But it's hard to see it now. But, you know, hopefully, you know, Santa Claus brings hope and love and all this other good stuff together and makes people want to be more Santa Claus-like to each other.

LIMBONG: That was Santa Allan Sui, the first Asian Santa Claus at the Mall of America. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mia Estrada
Mia Estrada is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She will spend the year rotating through different parts of NPR, including the Culture Desk, National Desk and Weekend Edition.
Adam Raney