By Sheri Leigh, January 11, 2024
A while ago, I spoke to a close friend who recently moved to the East Coast from the Benicia area. As we were catching up, I mentioned my efforts to educate our community about the La Migra Games. At first, she didn’t know what I was referring to, and as we discussed it further, she got it. Not only was she aware of the game, three of her children, who are now adults, had participated as “undocumenteds” while in high school. Despite our closeness, my friend and I sometimes have completely different perspectives. This was one of those times…
My good friend, whom I will refer to as Alice, was a long time Benicia/Vallejo resident but has since moved away. Alice has several children, and like their mother, her children are smart and adventurous. They enjoy outdoor activities and extreme sports when the opportunity arises. The younger ones attended Benicia public schools, including the high school, spanning from about 2010-2019.
As underclassmen at BHS, they were each challenged to participate in the “La Migra Games” by the seniors who were hosting, and three of them took it on. They loved the idea of a long distance (three-mile) chase game at night where they needed to use their skills and wits to get to the other end of town without being caught by students posing as ICE officers. However, since the chase was what appealed to them rather than the pursuit, they only participated as underclassmen running from their older peers.
The eldest of the three, and the one who was at Benicia High School first, was probably the biggest thrill seeker of the family. He apparently had an amazing experience playing the game and encouraged the younger ones to take advantage of this opportunity when it was their turn. One younger brother and even younger sister followed suit a few years later. All of them individually made it to the “safe” zone without being captured, and felt the same exhilaration as did their older brother by their accomplishment. They each shared their experience with Alice, who appreciated that her children voluntarily participated in something that required ingenuity, bravery and physical endurance.
When I brought up my concerns about “La Migra,” it was clear that Alice did not connect the name of the game with the actual event. She really didn’t know what it was called until my clarification, although I’m sure the kids did. This family is of white European heritage and their ancestors have been in the United States for several generations now. The kids don’t have the perspective of a modern immigrant family, so the name, “La Migra” didn’t trigger them the way it does some others. Once we discussed the impact of the name, Alice could definitely see how the title and the assertion could be offensive. She suggested that changing the name and the premise to something less racially charged and continuing the tradition would be the appropriate thing to do.
I need to mention here that this family has deep roots in the military. Two of Alice’s three children who played the game continued on to serve our country, while the youngest is still contemplating service. Being in the military includes participation in potentially dangerous games, in preparation for real life military missions. Neither the kids nor Alice were concerned with the individual and public safety. She dismissed my points that there is no roster, that no one is formally accounted for, that the parents don’t necessarily know where their children are during the game, and that the game is played on public streets and encroaches on private property. She ascertained that if there were formal rules, it would require adult supervision – something that would definitely minimize or even eliminate the independent and thrilling nature of the game.
As we discussed it more, Alice suggested that the City could let the community know that this game is happening and that we should all exercise more caution that evening rather than try to shut down the game. She sees the game as a unique and important opportunity for teens to participate in an activity which requires them to use their emerging survival skills – something that could be valuable later in life.
One of the few things that did capture Alice’s attention from my extensive list of concerns was that some young people who aren’t voluntarily playing the game are being targeted, with severe trauma often being the result. We agreed that some identifying and visible article of clothing or accessory could be worn so that everyone can unequivocally know who is playing and who is not. She felt that, as in life, there should be a code of ethics among the students. Only those who self-identify as a participant should be chased.
And finally, much to my personal relief, Alice was absolutely concerned about the alleged increasing violence, including the use of gel pellet guns, as part of the game. For this, she put responsibility directly on the shoulders of the parents or guardians of the young people who opt to use verbal or physical assault as part of their chase tactics. She feels that parents need to establish a strict moral code and that children should never be allowed to use weapons, whether real or “toys,” irresponsibly.
I care very much about my friend and her family, and I want to hear her perspective and consider this into the equation. From their point of view, there are good reasons for young people to have the opportunity to participate in a game that promotes excitement, fear, exhilaration, and wits, as long as it’s done voluntarily and with honor. The question remains – how do we provide something like this for our young people without inciting racism, bullying, violence and, as I will continue to emphasize, unsafe conditions for those involved and for the public?
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