How does the meeting with Santa Claus influence Waverly? What does the meeting reveal about Waverly's mom and the community?
This is a great question. Waverly was, by every measure, a precocious child. Therefore, her interaction with Santa Claus was interesting to say the least. Let me give you a quote first and then make a few observations.
I think the only children who thought he was the real thing were too young to know that Santa Claus was not Chinese. When my turn came up, the Santa man asked me how old I was. I thought it was a trick question; I was seven according to the American formula and eight by the Chinese calendar. I said I was born on March 17, 1951. That seemed to satisfy him. He then solemnly asked if I had been a very, very good girl this year and did I believe in Jesus Christ and obey my parents. I knew the only answer to that. I nodded back with equal solemnity.
First, Waverly knew enough to know that Santa Claus was a part of Western tradition. In other words, Christmas and Santa were not Chinese. This is why she remarks that only the youngest children believed that Santa was Chinese. To put it another way, Waverly knows that she is Chinese, and Santa and what he represents is not.
Second, when Santa asked a simple question, she thought that it was a trick question. She hedged her answer. This shows that Waverly, even at a young age, was very calculating. She was applying the “art of invisible strength,” even at this age.
As for what this interaction shows about Waverly’s mom and community, this short episode shows that Waverly’s mom and community are negotiating values and customs in their new environment. On the one hand, they take part in Christmas and go to church (at least on holidays), but they also keep Western values at arms length. We can see this when Waverly’s mother tells Waverly's brothers to throw away the gift, even though they participated in the church’s festivities.
Like all immigrant communities, there is a process of assimilation, which is never easy.