Sheri Leigh continues her reporting on ‘La Migra’
I first heard about the particular incident involving this young person when listening to a recording from a Town Hall–style meeting that occurred on April 28, 2022. The pain in the voice of the then 16-year-old clearly came through even on the less-than-ideal recording as he told his story to those in attendance. He completely captured my heart and my attention. I was put in contact with his mother who spoke to her son about my article, and they both agreed to meet with me at Rragg’s Coffee Shop one quiet afternoon. They were waiting for me at a corner table when I walked in. The young man who told his story to me was a year older in body than when the event took place, but decades older in spirit. His voice and mannerisms were that of a mature, intelligent, gentle young man who had experienced trauma but was determined to share his story so that others in the future would not have to endure the same treatment. His mother was clearly supportive of her son, and was trying hard to balance her protective instincts with her need to let her son feel the pain of speaking his truth. Although tears came to her eyes while he told his story she fought through them and gave him space. Later, on the phone with me, she and I both cried. – Sheri Leigh
‘Is Benicia a Sundown Town?’
In 2022, Benicia organizers put on a Town Hall–style meeting to raise awareness about the danger and trauma that can come from ignoring or downplaying the ‘Game’s’ violent, racist framing. | KTVU Fox 2.
As experienced by a 17-year-old Latino and Indigenous male, who is also 5-year Benicia resident
I started school here in Benicia in 2017, but it wasn’t until last year that I woke up to the danger that is inflicted on young people who are labeled as different because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or gender identification.
My awakening happened on a Friday evening on the eve of spring break, 2022. My friend, a young female of color, and I were walking around on First Street. We could sense an excited tension in town. There seemed to be more traffic and more noise, which we chalked up to young people in anticipation of vacation.
Escalation from game to assault
We were crossing First Street after getting ice cream when the occupants of a large white truck drew our attention by loudly revving the engine. As we looked towards them, one of the passengers, a white male, put his head out of the window and started making barking sounds and yelling something unintelligible at my friend. This angered me, and I told him to “screw off.”
No sooner were the words out of my mouth when a passenger said to the others in the car, “Let’s get them!” The truck made a sudden and aggressive turn so that they were driving parallel with us. They started shouting derogatory things, calling me a “f—t” and my friend the n-word.
Now nervous, we tried to ignore them and walk away as fast as possible. As we were quickening our pace, we heard metallic clicking noises from the truck and a gun was fired at us. I was hit in the face near my eye and across my hand, and my friend was hit on her torso. We didn’t know at the time that they were shooting ice from a gel pellet gun. The pain was very real. The gun looked real to us, too. The truck continued up First Street, but we could hear our original assailant yelling, “Hurry up and turn around, so we can get those m—f—s.”
We didn’t wait for their return. Instead, we ran down a side street and into a fenced yard of a private home where we hid in some bushes behind the homeowner’s vehicle. We were both injured and terrified. For about 45 minutes, we could hear the truck going up and down the street looking for us. When they finally gave up, we cautiously made our way to a commercial building and found an elevator, where we hid again for over an hour while we called our families for help. Because we were in shock, we had a difficult time providing our specific location, but eventually my sister found us. She took us to my mom and the police who were waiting by the Benicia Senior Center.
Mixed police response
The police took our statements and examined our lacerations. We were badly bruised and bleeding. My traumatized memory of being interviewed that evening is vague, but I do remember feeling bothered that the officers had no sense of urgency or seemed to exhibit any compassion for what we experienced.
I learned later that the dispatcher initially tried to dismiss my mother’s request for help. My mom was told that I had obviously gotten myself involved in an annual “game or prank” the kids play on each other every year on a designated evening around spring break. My mom had to convince the dispatcher that this incident was worth police involvement.
Over the next few days, the police were able to view the incident on film. They identified the license plate of the truck and tracked down the owner and the driver. Eventually, they identified several other young people in the truck that night – one female and the rest males; all white; all attendees of Benicia Unified; and all but one under the age of 18.
They also found the owner of the gun and the gun itself. Although the kids were interrogated, none of them confessed to being the hate-shouter, nor the shooter, and no one was prosecuted. The school district was informed, but because the act took place off campus and outside of school hours, no disciplinary actions were taken.
The only follow up for us took place a few weeks later. The detective on our case asked my mom and me if we would be willing to have a supervised meeting with the one youth who was over 18. We agreed. The meeting was held at the police station with the detective and one other police officer present. The other kid and I were each asked to tell our story and “hash it out.” No apology was required, and none was forthcoming.
When it was over, the detective persuaded my mom and me to sign a statement of release that waived any further prosecution on the grounds that this young man would have his life ruined if we went forward. Feeling coerced, we both signed the waiver. I now regret that. This young man and his friends had enthusiastically participated in an activity which is comparable to Russian pogroms or KKK lynchings and have not had to endure any significant consequences.
A game for some, a nightmare for others
The so-called game is called “La Migra (Immigration) Night” and, although the title has changed over time, it has been going on for decades. I have since learned that it is a night where many upperclassmen students, usually white and usually male, chase down the underclassmen. They have been known to harass, kidnap, and, as in my case, assault other students of color or anyone else who is different and/or appears weak and vulnerable, whether or not they are an actual participant.
Nearly all of the students know about this “game.” Some of the underclassmen willingly take part, taking on the challenge of being chased. Many others stay in for the night, afraid of the possible consequences of being “captured” and/or knowing that the “game” is morally, ethically, and legally wrong. I was unaware of this long-time tradition because of my relative newness to the community and because Covid interfered with school activities for a significant amount of time between my arrival here and last year. Since that evening last year, I learned that an estimated 50-75% of the white upperclassmen boys participate in the chase. And it’s horrifying.
Although the evening may be over for the young people in the truck, it is not over for me. I suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress and I am no longer comfortable participating in school or district-wide events, including senior prom. It’s difficult for me to attend school. Now I avoid walking down First Street and have since that evening over a year ago. I am not able to enjoy or be part of this beautiful community.
I feel like I am living in a Sundown Town – one where it is not safe for those who are different or vulnerable to be out at night.
It certainly does not feel safe to me.
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LEARN MORE ABOUT ‘LA MIGRA’
- The Profound Danger of ‘La Migra’ (Perspectives on ‘La Migra’) by Sheri Leigh | May 12, 2023
- Alert – Dangerous ‘La Migra’ Game Friday | March 30, 2023
- Benicia Community Raises Concerns after Teens Attacked During ‘La Migra’ Game | NBC Bay Area, April 28, 2022
- These California Kids Got In Trouble for Playing La Migra, a Game Where ‘Border Agents’ Chase ‘Illegal Immigrants| Reason Magazine, April 18, 2018
- Controversial La Migra Deportation Game Divides Bay Area City | East Bay Times, April 25, 2017
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