“Today’s Back Story is about a recent international trip by reporter Peter Rowe and photojournalist Alejandro Tamayo. They only drove 30 miles from San Diego, but that took them to a foreign locale: Rosarito Beach. They visited that Baja California city’s large American community, curious to see how they are faring under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Q. Why did you go to Rosarito Beach?
A. We wanted to talk to Americans living in a foreign country that has been often criticized by President Trump.
Q. How many U.S. citizens live in Rosarito?
A. No one knows because few fill out the required Mexican immigration forms.
Q. If there are no exact numbers, is there an estimate?
A. Yes — 15,000 to 30,000, or 15 to 30 percent of the city’s population.
Q. Is Trump popular here?
A. Not among Mexicans, who say his comments have unfairly portrayed them as criminals and undesirables. You can find Trump piñatas and bracelets with obscene statements about our president.
Q. Has this unpopularity led to a rise in anti-Americanism?
A. That was one of the most surprising things we found — Americans remain popular in Rosarito.
A. One reason was cited by former Mayor Hugo Torres, owner of the landmark Rosarito Beach Hotel. This resort town’s economy rises and falls with the seasonal influx of tourists. This permanent population of U.S. citizens spends money year-round, which helps even out the highs and lows.
Q. The Americans are valued solely for their free-spending ways?
A. No, there’s another side to this coin. U.S. retirees and Mexican residents alike note that expats are generous with their time and money. Americans here have founded a Rotary Club chapter that supports a local school and a Friends of the Library that supplies books, computers, even paper and pencils to the city’s five branch libraries.
Q. What about the Boys and Girls Club?
A. The Rosarito branch was founded by Rosy Torres, Hugo’s daughter, who first encountered these clubs while living in the U.S. She wanted to give local children a safe place to study and play after school. Yet she had a hard time selling this idea to her Mexican neighbors, few of whom had heard of the Boys and Girls Club.
Q. What happened?
A. Rosy Torres found an ally in an expat, Gil Sperry, editor of The Baja Times, the local newspaper. His annual mariachi festival has, to date, raised more than $700,000 for the Boys and Girls Club.
Q. Living in Mexico, these Americans must oppose a president who promised to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, right?
A. Yes — and no. In that way, Rosarito is just like San Diego. You find Trump critics and Trump fans.
Q. Trump fans in Rosarito? Is that possible?
A. Absolutely, said John Murphy and Dave Curry, two Trump voters we met. They insist that their Mexican friends remain close. On some issues, they’ve even found common political ground.
Q. For instance?
A. Murphy doubts that Trump’s border wall will ever be built — or, given other high-tech alternatives, is really needed.
Q. What about NAFTA?
A. Rosarito’s maquiladoras depend on trade with the U.S. Over breakfast in his hotel, Hugo Torres argued that NAFTA should be improved but not scrapped.
Q. Why would the U.S. agree to that?
A. Because both countries benefit, Torres said, pointing to his fruit bowl. The bananas and strawberries came from Mexico, the apples from the U.S.”