The first winner was escorted to the stage. He tipped his tiny head back, and a ripping wail escaped from beneath the drawn hood of his red sweatshirt. Tears soon followed.
Dozens of children gazed from behind yellow police tape as a large, skullcapped biker lifted the sobbing victor and balanced him atop the prize: a black bicycle, brand-new and decked out with the smallest of training wheels and metallic blue-and-purple streamers. He froze in distress, his legs jerking a few times to avoid the pedals.
The biker—an “Angel” from the Mexican motorcycle group Solo Ángeles—gently held the winner in place and then rolled him back to his family waiting in the crowd.
Typically, such raucous giveaways—known as “toy runs”—provoke more joy than fear for attendees. But emotions can overwhelm a kid surrounded by bikers.The Solo Ángeles have hosted their Tijuana Toy Run for decades. This year’s run featured four different stages where bikers stood and passed out items. The wildly popular event attracts bikers from both sides of the border in a unique ritual of giving back. Roughly 25 clubs pitched in, collecting three tractor-trailers full of toys. No kid leaves empty-handed.
The border state of Baja California hosts various motorcycle clubs. Their memberships span from two-wheeled speed enthusiasts to known gangster syndicates funded by crime—all of whom unite during the holiday season.
The giveaways tend toward the boisterous. While thousands of eager children wait in lines, often for hours, bikers throw back cans of Tecate beer wrapped in brown paper bags. They laugh, bark orders, and tell off-color jokes. Their motorcycles are adorned with tinsel and Santa hats in addition to airbrushed skulls. Giant stuffed animals, trucks, and tricked-out custom bicycles are passed out.
Toy runs like this happen around the world, from Australia to Europe to South Africa. But in Mexico, where bloody drug violence continues to linger in the public consciousness, the sight of rough-hewn guys gently handing out toys and bikes to kids offers an endearing spectacle.
At this year’s Tijuana Toy Run, an Angel with black leather boots and dark jeans stood on one of the stages erected on Avenida Revolución, passing out stuffed animals to the queue of children gathered beneath him. Music pumped from four sound systems independently blaring an awkwardly upbeat fusion of norteño, house, and pop songs.
Beside the rowdy bikers, the children seemed meek and orderly. On stage, Angels collided in a frenzy, practically tripping over heaps of gifts in their eagerness to distribute them. The Angel in the dark jeans grinned, reaching down to hand a toy to a girl standing with her family. The faded patch sewn to the front of the biker’s leather vest read, in English, “I Fuck Your Girlfriend.”
In the midst of the festivities, no one noticed.