Category Archives: Benicia CA

Tonight at 5:30: ‘Play-Art’ Piano Season Opens at Farmer’s Market with Special Performance

A taste of the French Quarter in Benicia 

– Artist Josie Grant’s ‘Jungle’ piano, featuring a natural scene with lush plants and colorful animals, is returning to First Street with Hippo. | Photo by Will Stockton.

May 30, 2024

Here’s your reminder that, tonight at 5:30pm, Benicia’s Arts and Culture Commission will celebrate the seasonal return of its two popular play-art pianos, Hippo and Jungle, in St. Paul’s Courtyard on First Street.

Local musicians and performers will be providing a “Dueling Pianos” experience for Farmer’s Market guests and passersby. Community members are encouraged to bring all types of instruments to join in the fun.

Fiestas Primaveras Prize-Winning Essay: “How La Migra impacts our Community, and what we can do to change it”

[Note from BenIndy: As part of the Solano AIDS Network and BBLM’s inaugural Fiestas Primavera Festival on March 28, 2024, Benicia High School students were invited to submit writings for an essay contest discussing issues related to the chase-games malingering presence in a town that seemed ready to move on. This essay tackled the tough topic of why students are drawn to the game – namely, “there isn’t much [for teens] to do in Benicia” – and what else might deliver the same thrills for Benicia youth, minus the racism and looming danger of injuries, arrests, and even fatalities.]

Spencer and Mario Saucedo at Benicia’s Fiestas Primavera on March 28, 2024. | Photo by family.

By Spencer Ball, May 28, 2024

The game “La Migra” or “Border Patrol” has been treated as a tradition toward high school students at Benicia high school for several decades. The aim of the game is for the higher classmen (Seniors who are able to drive) to chase down lowerclassmen from Jack London Park to the baseball field downtown. This is a 3-4 mile journey the lowerclassmen, mostly freshmen, must complete on foot throughout the roads and fields on Benicia while avoiding the seniors that are able to kidnap, shoot, and harrass you and hinder you from reaching the baseball field. Now this seems like a fun cops and robbers game, there isn’t much to do in Benicia anyway and to have an intense chase game that uses the entire city and a playground sounds extremely fun. 

However there is also the concern of non players and the safety of others playing the game. The game takes place late in the afternoon and lasts until around 10:00 pm at night. For a majority of the time people are in the dark, running around the street, avoiding Seniors in their cars who are most likely driving erratically to catch the lowerclassmen.

This can lead to accidents of people getting run over or people getting into wrecks. On another note there is the concern of people who are not playing being confused for players. During the game the seniors assume anybody who is a teenager and out walking or running down the sidewalk is playing, which could subject them to being shot at or kidnapped without even knowing what is going on. I would be terrified if I was walking down the street and then out of nowhere somebody drove up to Me, kidnapped me, and dropped me off, potentially restrained in a location far and foreign to Me, for possibly hours on end. 

Lastly La Migra, meaning Border Patrol, was originally created to replicate ICE and the deportation of illegal immigrants coming into the country. This gives La Migra, which most people play for the cops and robbers gameplay, a racist and discriminatory premise, which is not needed in today’s culture.

I believe we can fix this through rebranding the game and playing it in a controlled area such as the Benicia Community Park, with the aid of the city of professionals who can make the game even better than it was with Seniors in their cars and BB guns.

What if we could get funding behind a cause to rework the game and get military personnel or professionals to provide a simulated cops-and-robbers game like what was La Migra, but controlled, with EMT services to help people in case there is an accident, and have the potential to be way better more funner and memorable? If students want the thrill of chase or battle, these people can give that to us. It would be an event that people might come to Benicia to participate in, news articles will give it traction, and it will turn what was once La Migra into a inclusive game where people will be able to enjoy a game in a way unimaginable before, and without racial bias rooted into the phenomenon.

[This essay was edited very mildly for clarity.]

Sheri Leigh: Benicia Teens Offer New Ideas, Hope for Lasting Change for Life after La Migra Games

Sheri Leigh
Sheri Leigh, Benicia resident and educator.

By Sheri Leigh, first published in the Benicia Herald on May 26, 2024

I first met Spencer Ball in February of this year when I went to the Kyle Hyland Teen Center to speak to the students there about the offensive game.  He was refreshingly enthusiastic about finding exciting alternatives for teens to do in Benicia, rather than engaging in the game (La Migra).  As I talked to the students about the potential dangers and racist undertones of the game, Spencer fired off a plethora of different ideas, opening the door for progressive planning and teen engagement.  

Spencer Ball is an 11th grader at Benicia High School and a natural leader.  He helps his parents with their business and has a strong interest in mechanics and becoming an entrepreneur.  He is even considering a career in politics.  Spencer was one of the two Fiestas Primavera Scholarship recipients, writing a winning essay about the impacts of the La Migra game on our community. [Ed. Note: A copy of this essay will be posted later today, on May 28, 2024.]

Shortly after starting high school nearly three years ago, Spencer heard about La Migra.  The intensity of the pandemic was just ending, and the game had just resumed with a fervor and ruthlessness born from young people being cooped up and isolated for so long.  He noticed that the students were really into it.  Some of the kids wore all black, complete with dark balaclavas to minimize their visibility in the dark while running.  Some of the chasers carried airsoft guns that resembled military grade weaponry.  One student even rented a U-Haul in the anticipation of capturing and deporting a lot of “illegals.”  Spencer talked about hearing that some captured “escapees” were zip-tied to a fence or dropped off in San Francisco.  

“I understand and like edgy games, such as Cops and Robbers, where the thrill factor is high, but there are problems with La Migra,” 16-year-old Spencer Ball told me when we met over coffee at Starbucks in April to talk about other options for teens in the community.  He wants to reinvent the game in a safer, more structured, and non-racist way.  “Kids need to have activities that are exciting and free from adult involvement, but being unkind to one another isn’t the way to do it.” Spencer shared that he and his friends already play a simulated war game in the Community Park wilderness area using nerf guns, and they love it.  Everyone watches out for each other.  They all know who is playing.  They establish reasonable rules, and they follow them.  Any of the friends can include whomever they want, and they all have an equal standing.  “We can open it up school-wide to anyone who wants to play,” he suggested.  

Spencer and Solano Aids Coalition Executive Director Mario Saucedo at Benicia’s Fiestas Primavera on March 28, 2024. | Photo by family.

Spencer also talks about the loose use of racist and sexist words used by the kids.  He notes that there is a lot of desensitized “humor” at school.  He mentioned that some of the students yell out words that would never be used in more civilized situations or around their grandmothers. 

Spencer notes that even under the best of circumstances and with all good intentions, these words can be obnoxious, offensive, or frightening to a lot of people when they hear it: “We need to stop giving the words power. We shouldn’t let these words affect who we are or react to them.  The same with bullying.  Social media has played a big part in this problem.  I’ve been bullied.  Standing up for yourself is one of the only ways to stop it.  Speak with confidence.  Surround yourself with caring people.  If you find the courage to hold your head up, self-esteem will follow.” 

Often easier said than done, for many, but absolutely correct in an ideal world.  

“We need to come together as a community,” Spencer tells me.  I nod.  His goal is to inspire and develop more inclusive, less dangerous, and yet fun activities for teens and to be that agent of change.  I look forward to what Spencer and others like him bring to Benicia.  

A copy of Spencer’s prize-winning essay about the La Migra game will be posted later today, on May 28, 2024. 

Benicia’s ‘Play-Art’ Pianos Returning to First Street – Starting on Thurs., May 30 with a Special Performance!

A taste of the French Quarter in Benicia – Dueling Pianos to return to St. Paul’s Courtyard (bring your instruments!)

– Artist Josie Grant’s ‘Jungle’ piano, featuring a natural scene with lush plants and colorful animals, is returning to First Street with Hippo. | Photo by Will Stockton.

May 26, 2024

This Thursday, May 30th, at 5:30pm, Benicia’s Arts and Culture Commission will host a community event St. Paul’s courtyard to celebrate the seasonal return of its two popular play-art pianos, Hippo and Jungle.

Inspired by the lively, collaborative atmosphere of New Orleans and its French Quarter’s musical scene, the Arts and Culture Commission has invited local musicians and performers to participate in a “Dueling Pianos” experience that is sure to attract music lovers from all ages and backgrounds.

Local officials are expected to speak before the commission launches an open mic opportunity available throughout Benicia’s 2024 Play-Art Piano Season, during Benicia’s weekly Farmer’s Markets, on Thursday evenings.

Community members are encouraged to bring all types of instruments to join in the festivities this Thursday’s Farmer’s Market for a fun, inclusive and very vibrant musical experience.

Save the date, and see you there!