Category Archives: Lionel Largaespada

Lionel Largaespada on La Migra: A “Game” vs. Family Values

Sheri Leigh
Sheri Leigh, Benicia resident and educator.

By Sheri Leigh, October 13, 2023

As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, I met with several community leaders about their views on the La Migra “game.” Former Benicia City Council member Lionel Largaespada was one of them. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say since his family background is Latin American. He agreed that this topic was important enough to meet with me, a stranger, to share our values and ideas. We met one morning at Rrag’s Coffee Shop for a pleasant hour of discussion. While there, nearly everyone who passed us stopped to say hello to Lionel, and it was clear to me he is a well-liked and respected member of our community. 

Former Benicia City Council Member Lionel Largaespada spoke with Sheri Leigh about La Migra. | Photo provided to Vallejo Times-Herald, courtesy of Mr. Largaespada, in 2018.

Former Council Member Lionel Largaespada is very familiar with the challenges of being from an immigrant family. His father is from Nicaragua, his mother is from El Salvador, his step-mother is from Cuba, and his step-father is also from Nicaragua. They all immigrated to the United States as teens, leaving behind countries that offered less opportunities for themselves and their families. His step-father (who immigrated as an adult) studied hard in his adopted country, the United States, and became a doctor.

Mr. Largaespada , the oldest of eight, was born in San Francisco. As a child, he moved around with his family to many other areas of the country, including Omaha, Bensalem (outside of Philadelphia), and Atlantic City. Eventually, his family settled in Hercules, CA, where he completed his public education. 

Mr. Largaespada and his wife moved to Benicia 18 years ago when they were planning to start a family. The schools here had an excellent reputation, the crime statistics were low, and the small-town atmosphere seemed like a good place to raise children. The couple now have two daughters: the younger is a sophomore at Benicia High School, and the older daughter is a Benicia public school alumni now a freshman at Arizona State University. 

A lawn with kids running away.
‘La Migra’ is slang for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is the name used for this controversial game based on ICE agents deporting undocumented immigrants. | This image is from a 2018 video showing footage of the Game starting.

Mr. Largaespada first heard about the La Migra “game,” about seven years ago. An upset parent came to a Benicia City Council meeting to express his concern at this racially offensive, unofficial, yet traditional “game” the high school students were playing. The concern of this parent captured Mr. Largaespada’s attention – both as a community leader and as a parent of two young girls.

In Mr. Largaespada’s opinion, the concept of high school upperclassmen versus lowerclassmen is a legacy that has been going on for generations. He respects and honors the fact that the title, La Migra, and the simulation of an immigration raid can be triggering and racially offensive, particularly to those who have experienced or been threatened by immigration operations.

However, this is not what bothers Mr. Largaespada the most. What concerns Mr. Largaespada most is the evident disconnect between parents or guardians and the young people who choose to get involved in this game. 

In the matter of raising children, Mr. Largaespada is a strong advocate for teaching respect for others and oneself, and teaching kindness. Words and actions matter. The mimicry of the very painful and sometimes brutal chasing and apprehending of immigrants by ICE agents steps beyond the boundaries of decency. In his opinion, the parents and guardians of the students playing the “game” don’t know where their children are that evening, what they are doing, or are completely unaware of the details and impacts of the game being played.

Some Benicia High School students have taken action against the game, posting warnings to discourage peers from participating. | This image is a still from a 2023 NBC Bay Area report.

Mr. Largaespada feels strongly that words matter, and calling something La Migra, which incites fear on one end and domination on the other, is not respectful, compassionate, or kind. There should be no place for the violence, verbal assault, or recklessness this game incites among our youths. Mr. Largaespada also believes that parents should be held accountable for their children’s behavior. He would support a mandated sensitivity training for the student apprehended while engaged in the game . . . AND he would support the same training for their families. If parents and guardians maintain a loving and disciplined relationship with their children, teaching them strong values, establishing clear boundaries, and maintaining good communication, Mr. Largaespada believes that the La Migra game would not have a place in this community or anywhere. 

As his own girls approached high school, Mr. Largaespada and his wife had some very serious conversations with them about what behaviors they expected of their children. There would be no tolerance of any disrespect of any kind – no vandalism, no deliberate miscommunication or evasiveness, no bullying, AND no involvement in the La Migra “game.” They were instructed to watch out for their friends as well. If a friend or acquaintance was getting involved with bad behavior of any type, the Largaespada girls were to try to neutralize things or walk away. And they did. 

We all have a part in making Benicia welcoming, inclusive and safe. And for many, it feels that way. For the most part, our community is made up of caring individuals who elect responsive and caring leaders. But it should feel that way for all of us, regardless of age, gender, color of skin, religion, political leanings, abilities, and anything else that makes us unique. Parents and guardians play a huge role in shaping the behavior and values of our children. And our children grow up to become members of a community contributing to the overall community in which they reside – for better or for worse. 

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If you would like Sheri to hear and share your perspective on the ‘La Migra Game,’ please contact her through the Benicia Independent. Remember that it is your story that is critical for others to hear, not your name, unless you would like to be identified.
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KQED: Candidate Targeted by Valero Wins Benicia Mayoral Race

[Significant quote: “The fact that Young withstood the Valero PAC’s campaign is hugely significant, according to Matto Mildenberger, an assistant professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara, who focuses on oil politics.  ‘It means that Benicia voters are willing to take their climate future into their own hands and are going to resist efforts by oil companies to control local politics.'”] [See also KQED’s Oct 28 report on Valero PAC spending.]

Benicia Election Update with candidate quotes

KQED Election Updates, By Ted Goldberg, November 4, 2020

Benicia Councilman Steve Young, a candidate attacked by a political action committee funded mainly by the Valero Energy company, will be the city’s new mayor.

The Working Families for a Strong Benicia PAC raised more than $250,000 to defeat Young and support Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge. The committee said Young would put blue collar jobs, like those at Valero’s Benicia refinery, at risk.

But city’s voters were not swayed.

With Young leading the race with close to 52% of the vote, Strawbridge, who garnered about 31%, conceded the election Wednesday morning.

“I believe the voters reacted strongly against the negative ads and mailers that the Valero-funded PAC tried to use against me,” Young said.

“Hopefully, Valero will learn the obvious lesson from this result: Interference in Benicia elections will be rejected in the future as well,” Young said.

Strawbridge called Young’s election a “decisive victory.”

“Congratulations to him,” Strawbridge said, adding that the two lawmakers exchanged text messages Wednesday morning. “Even though it was a tough election, we have and will work together for Benicia.”

Since 2019, Valero has donated $240,000 to the political action committee targeting Young. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 549 donated some $50,000 as well.

The same PAC spent thousands to help Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada win seats on the Benicia City Council, and to defeat Kari Birdseye, a former chair of the city’s Planning Commission that denied Valero’s crude-by-rail expansion project.

Young will take over from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, a critic of Valero who has served in Benicia city government for two decades.

Patterson had become increasingly outspoken about efforts to place more regulations on the Valero plant, scene of the two worst refinery accidents in the Bay Area in the last three years.

The fact that Young withstood the Valero PAC’s campaign is hugely significant, according to Matto Mildenberger, an assistant professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara, who focuses on oil politics.

“It means that Benicia voters are willing to take their climate future into their own hands and are going to resist efforts by oil companies to control local politics,” Mildenberger said.

KQED: Texas refinery candidates win in Benicia City Council race

Repost from KQED News

Valero-Backed Candidates Win Benicia City Council Election

By Ted Goldberg, November 7, 2018
The Valero refinery in Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Two candidates backed by Texas-based Valero Energy Corp. won seats on the Benicia City Council in Tuesday’s election, while another candidate attacked by the large oil company lost.

Valero — which operates a refinery that’s one of Benicia’s largest employers — along with five state and local labor groups donated more than $165,000 to a political action committee that backed Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada and opposed Kari Birdseye, an environmentalist.

That amount is more than three times as much as what the candidates raised combined.

By Wednesday morning, Strawbridge got more than 33 percent of the vote, Largaespada garnered close to 30 percent and Birdseye received 26 percent, according to the Solano County Registrar of Voters. Those numbers don’t yet include all mail-in and provisional ballots.

Birdseye has conceded the election, but she expressed displeasure with the PAC’s actions.

“We ran a smart, clean campaign and played by the rules. These election results will only embolden special interests to throw in money to local races to buy candidates to do their dirty work,” Birdseye said in an emailed statement.

The Valero PAC’s ads called Birdseye “a yes man” for Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, and “another job killer” that was “bad for Benicia.”

Its work deepened a divide at City Hall and the rest of Benicia over the city’s relationship with its refinery neighbor, 18 months after the facility experienced a full power outage that led to a major release of pollution.

The Valero PAC’s work led to a failed attempt by Benicia city officials to get the state’s political watchdog to investigate some of Valero’s communication with voters weeks before the vote.

And it reminded critics of an effort by Chevron to sway voters in Richmond in 2014 when the company spent millions on an attempt to elect a slate of its allies to the City Council.

Strawbridge, who was previously on the council, emphasized that she did not support what she called the committee’s “smear campaign,” and said it’s time for the city to come together and improve its dealings with Valero.

“It’s been a tough election,” Strawbridge said in an interview Wednesday. “I ran on my own credentials, my own experience and I feel like that resonated with the residents.”

A Valero spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Last month the company wrote a letter to the editor at the Vallejo Times-Herald, emphasizing the refinery’s strong safety record and criticizing Mayor Patterson.

Union officials have said that Patterson’s criticism of Valero puts the city’s economic health at risk. And, since Birdseye was her ally and a spokeswoman for the National Resources Defense Council, she became the target of the PAC.

“Last night the voters of Benicia made it clear the path they want our city to take,” said Don Zampa, president of the District Council of Ironworkers, in an emailed statement. Zampa’s group is one of the those that donated to the PAC.

“Benicia is home to a blue-collar workforce. We’ve been here for generations and we are not going anywhere,” Zampa said.

Patterson, for her part, has said Valero tried to bully and buy its way into politics in Benicia. [Editor: see Mayor Patterson’s email comment to KQED.]

Largaespada did not respond to a request for comment.

Benicia candidates’ final campaign finance reports

By Roger Straw, October 31, 2018

Final reports on income sources and campaign expenses as posted on City of Benicia website

Cash raised Oct 21-28
Birdseye $705 (Total $21,159)
Largaespada $830 (Total $21,814)
Strawbridge $0 (Total $23,797)

Expenses Oct 21-28
Birdseye $761 (Total $17,836)
Largaespada $425 (Total $14,783)
Strawbridge $0 (Total $24,354)

Cash on hand
Birdseye $3,323
Largaespada $5,964
Strawbridge $5,463

Birdseye income: $350 from Progressive Democrats of Benicia and 5 smaller contributions.  Birdseye expenses: TV and Facebook ads.

Largaespada income: $580 from the mega-PAC California Real Estate Political Action Committee (CREPAC).  CREPAC has received and spent over $4 million on a wide variety of elections this year, including $925K to the CA Republican Party and $800K to the CA Democratic Party.   Largaespada expenses: Benicia Herald and Facebook ads.

Strawbridge: Odd that she had no financial activity!  Pure speculation: maybe her plan is to spend a bunch AFTER the final filing deadline?  Reports on spending from Oct. 29 – Nov. 6 aren’t due until Nov. 9.

Links to the final reports: