These California Kids Got In Trouble for Playing La Migra, a Game Where 'Border Agents' Chase 'Illegal Immigrants'

But it's a great game for gringos and Mexicans alike.


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For decades, high school students have played a game called La Migra in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Benicia, California. It's a mix of cops-and-robbers and tag. Upperclassmen assume the role of border agents (the aforementioned migra) as they look for freshmen and sophomores, who assume the role of immigrants. The "immigrants" get a 10-minute head-start on la migra, who scour the town to find them. Everyone has one giant fiesta. And when the freshmen become seniors, they get to become migra, too!

Who can possibly be upset by a game like that? Everyone, it turns out. Fans and friends started tagging me almost immediately on Twitter and Facebook when news broke. The story cropped up on The Drudge Report; local television stations interviewed "concerned parent" Daniel Serna, who compared the game to Nazis chasing Jews and the Klan lynching blacks (the correct historical corollary is the Texas Rangers against Tejanos, pendejo). School administrators sent a letter to Benicia parents vowing to crack down on the game.

Meanwhile, the kids who actually played La Migra had no idea what the furor was about—to them, it was just an excuse to run around.

My pals expected outrage from me. Instead, most of them got upset at my reaction: "Oh, yeah, I remember that game. It was fun! Kids still play it? Cool!"

It's true. My friends and I played La Migra over 30 years ago as second-graders at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Anaheim. And so did my brother, who is 12 years younger than me. Cousins even younger than us played it. So did people older than me.

We weren't upper-middle-class white kids like those in Benicia, but rather working-class Mexicans, almost all of us the children of immigrants, many of them undocumented. None of us were triggered; none of us called those who participated "problematic." Hell, we were more offensive than Benicia High: The only safe space for the immigrant team in our game was on the other side of a human wall that you had to break through. And we started the game with someone screaming "¡LA MIGRA!"—you know, just like in real life.

We were boys and girls who knew all about the terrors of the Border Patrol—and we were going to have fun at their expense, dammit.

The true offense of Benicia's La Migra is something the left doesn't like to acknowledge and the right can't even comprehend. The act of coming to el Norte without papers can be a fun adventure.

Just ask my dad and his brothers. They came to the United States repeatedly as mojados ("wetbacks"—their word to describe themselves, not mine) from the 1960s through the 1980s, a Golden Age of illegal immigration. Those were the days when deportation was always imminent yet the state of California documented mojados by giving them drivers licenses and Social Security numbers, as if for a job well done.

And the stories they tell! My tíos light up when they recall coyotes they paid, bushes they hid in, identities they assumed, all while evading the migra. My dad, in particular, loves to tell the tale of the first time he entered illegally, in 1968. He travelled in the trunk of a Chevy alongside his cousin and a stranger, while the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" blasted on the stereo (would've been better if it was "Ticket to Ride," amirite?). They each paid a blonde hippie girl from Huntington Beach and her assimilated Mexican-American boyfriend $50 apiece to drive them over the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro.

My dad and his brothers make illegal immigration sound like one decades-long Keystone Kops sketch, mixed in with some Three Stooges pratfalls. And it wasn't just them. For decades, Mexican culture hailed illegal immigrants as mythical tricksters who came and went across la frontera with ease, humiliating Uncle Sam every step of the way. There were songs that pointed out Superman was an illegal (don't get mad at my word choice, SJWs, the tune is called "Superman es Ilegal" and the album cover depicts la migra capturing Superman in a phone booth) and that had former undocumented migrants not only getting away with a DUI but sharing a shot of tequila with the migra who caught them and calling him a "güey" (dumbass) in the process ("Chulas Fronteras"). They eluded la migra again and again ("Los Alambrados"—"The Wire Jumpers") and, um, pissed and crapped and wiped their dirty butts on the border wall ("El Muro de la Vergüenza"—"The Border Wall of Shame," by rock en españols dinosaurs El Tri).

These aren't novelty songs recorded by cult groups. Conjunto norteño legends Los Alegres de Terán recorded "El Corrido de los Mojados" ("The Ballad of the Wetbacks"—imagine recording that today!), which maintains that the solution to illegal immigration is for Mexican men to marry white girls and divorce them once they're legal. And ranchera titan Vicente Fernandez, the macho Zeus of Mexican music, recorded "Los Mandados" ("The Errands"), a song about a mojado whom la migra caught "300 times, let's say" and eventually brutalized. But rather than whine, Fernandez's character not only sued the hell out of the Border Patrol but laughed all the way to the bank.

Films also portrayed illegal immigrants as hilarious masters of their own destiny. The 1980s films of La India Maria (Mary the Indian, a character in the same populist vein as Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp) frequently mocked the Border Patrol as the clueless agents of the state that they are. Then there was Born in East L.A., a 1987 farce by stoner legend Cheech Marín. Here, the government is so inept that they deport his character, a Mexican-American citizen so assimilated that he knows Ronald Reagan hosted Death Valley Days but forgot he was president of the United States.

Some undocumented activists in the United States still maintain a flippant approach to their immigration status. But that rich vein of social satire long ago became déclassé for the left and virtually disappeared from mainstream culture. It's far easier to cast immigrants as poor, pathetic victims who constantly live in fear than as wily individuals who know how to embarrass the most powerful nation on Earth by the mere act of making a life for themselves en los Estados Unidos.

That's what La Migra is ultimately about. It's preposterous to legislate away a game that children have played for decades and that harms only the klutzes who fall down in the chase. And it's even more preposterous that the Debbie Downers in Benicia won. Earlier this week, the kids announced that their game is now called "Extreme Fun Run." Who the hell wants to play that?

By the way, playing the immigrant in La Migra is far cooler than being Border Patrol. Sure, it's fun tracking down your classmates, but nothing beats the look of disgust on la migra's face when an immigrant not only evades them but also crashes through the human border wall to freedom. Just ask an actual undocumented immigrant, you know?