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Border & Immigration

Thousands of Kids, Toys, And Motorcycles In Tijuana

Erin Siegal
In Tijuana, Bikers, Kids, and Thousands of Toys
'Tis the season for a boisterous event in Tijuana that combines thousands of toys, thousands of kids, and- are you ready?—nearly ten thousand motorcycle enthusiasts from Mexico and the United States.

Erin Siegal

Charinay Bolaños Quintero, 10, has been standing outside for hours. She's one of nearly 8,000 kids here on Avenida Revolución, Tijuana's famous downtown strip. They fill the street, for block after block. Some look excited, and some are clearly nervous. Some have their hands clasped together, eyes closed, as if deep in prayer.

The reason they're waiting?

"Bicycles, toys, dolls, mmmm," Charinay tells me dreamily, in Spanish. She's excited, and having trouble standing still. "They bring lots of presents."

Her mother tells me they come to this, the Tijuana Toy Run, every December.

A rough-hewn motorcycle club called Solo Ángeles (Solo Angels) hosts the event. They're a Mexican Hell's Angels splinter group that has been around for decades. This year was the 27th anniversary of the annual charity event.


"It's a club that was founded— well, there's a little controversy— in 1967," said Larry Hughes, an Angels member who's known as Crazy Larry. "A Hell's Angel wanted a club for the Mexicans, and he founded it down here … and it's been here ever since."

Crazy Larry said he joined the group in the 1970s, after partying with them in Mexico. Today, he estimates, the club's Tijuana membership is around 150 strong. They keep a clubhouse in the city, where bikes stack up outside, visible from blocks away.

The Tijuana Toy Run draws in thousands of bikers, hailing from more than 25 different motorcycle clubs, groups, and gangs. The event is so popular that today it's sponsored by San Diego Harley Davidson.

This year, roughly three tractor-trailers worth of toys were distributed. The bikers haul the goods to Tijuana from other cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Rosarito.

Christy, who declined to provide her last name, identifies as a "motorcycle enthusiast." Along with her boyfriend, a Tijuana resident, she's attended three Tijuana Toy Runs. She's from Hollister, Calif.

"I'm like, oh, poor kids!" she told me, gesturing towards the snaking lines of waiting children. "I have a son, so I know. Oh god, the waiting must be killing them."

Out of all the motorcycle rallies she'd attended, Christy said, this is one of the biggest undertaken for the good of children.

Biker Santas wear motorcycle boots under their suits.
Erin Siegal
Biker Santas wear motorcycle boots under their suits.

The kids definitely know it. Four stages have been erected, each rigged with a professional sound system. The stages are piled with heaps of toys like stuffed animals, brand new dolls, and remote control cars.

At the front of each stands a gleaming assortment of candy-colored bicycles. They're tightly arranged into meticulous rows. Some have training wheels. Metallic streamers flow from the ends of their handlebars.

The bikers have left their mark on these highly desirable rides. A tiny orange-and-black emblem of the Solo Ángeles patch adorns each bicycle's basket.

On one stage, an Angel sits atop a small, sparkly new tricycle, sipping a can of Tecate beer hidden inside a brown bag. On another stage, an Angel in a leather vest with a white patch reading "I Fuck Your Girlfriend" handed a brand new teddy bear to a little girl.

Most of the kids clutched bright orange raffle tickets, needed in order to win one of the prized bikes. On each stage, Angels drew random numbers from drums.

But the rest of the toys -- including a giant stuffed likeness of Krusty the Clown that was about the same size as his new owner -- didn't require tickets. They were simply distributed one-by-one. No kid left empty-handed.

According to various eyewitnesses and press reports, around 10,000 toys are typically distributed at the Tijuana Toy Run. They're hauled, in trailers, to each stage. The Angels have a unique method of unloading: before the wide-eyed stares of thousands of waiting children, the bikers started chucking the toys, in a frenzy, into the air. They landed atop the raised stages.

For fifteen minutes, the air was filled with a hailstorm of toys. Crazy Larry was in middle of the action, tossing stuffed animals and passing up big cardboard boxes.

"It is about the kids." he said. "We'd do anything for 'em, if we can."

Solo Ángeles Unload toys in Tijuana