If you were to have visited Baja during the 1960s it would have looked completely different, comprised almost entirely of unpaved streets, one or two-story structures, especially in Rosarito Beach, and a handful of American expatriates living there full time along with a few thousand Mexicans. Rosarito Beach was not yet incorporated and officially still a part of Tijuana.

It experienced a slow but steady growth up to the ‘90s when in 1995 it was incorporated into the fifth municipality of Baja. There were a lot of small shops and restaurants, some hotels and about 700 rooms for the growing tourist population. When you drove through the town you knew you were in Mexico because that’s who mostly lived here – Mexicans. Most of the license plates were Mexican and people mostly spoke Spanish.

Flash forward to 2008. Paved streets for the most part, lots of tall buildings, mostly hotels and condominiums, lots of Americans living here, about 14,000 officially and who knows how many unofficially, most of the businesses speak some English and more than 2,500 hotel rooms now await tourists. And about half of the license plates are from California.

The big change is that most of the billboards are in English and American franchises are now common place in Rosarito. One of the first being MacDonald’s but they were soon followed by others such as Domino’s Pizza, Subway, Starbuck’s, AM/PM, Home Depot, Office Depot, there is a COSTCO in Tijuana and one in Ensenada with talk of one coming to Rosarito, and an Applebee’s and Wal*Mart are also on the way.

There is a Cineplex being built in the same complex that houses the Home Depot and the coming Applebee’s that will show English speaking American made movies. Rosarito got its first Ford dealership about a year ago and every week seems to bring something else American across the border. Many U.S. real estate companies, like ReMax and Prudential have set up shop on the Gold Coast of Baja, the region between Tijuana and Ensenada, to take advantage of the building boom that started in 2004. American title companies like Stewart Title have also opened offices and some U.S. banks now provide financing in Baja.

FRAO, the Foreign Residents Assistance Office was formed a few years ago to help foreigners, mainly Americans, get assistance in whatever they need. It’s the first office of its kind in Mexico and it has been received with open arms by the community. And there are several groups made up of expatriates who do volunteer work for the community such as Cruz Roja (Red Cross), the United Society of Baja California and the Flying Samaritans. It provides Americans a great way to get together and do something worthwhile at the same time.

Guadalupe Valley, Mexico’s answer to Napa Valley is only about an hour’s drive south of Rosarito and is known around the world for its award-winning wineries. All in all it’s getting to be very comfortable for Americans to be in Rosarito. More and more American baby boomers are buying second homes in Rosarito and many are planning to retire here one day. As increasingly more boomers follow suit, laws will more than likely change regarding healthcare issues and health insurance plans, especially Social Security, Medi-Cal and Medicare. When enough baby boomers decide to move to Baja, they will lobby the government to change its laws and then the only difference between Southern California and Baja will be in the name. Remember, if history has taught us anything it’s whatever the baby boomers want… they usually get.

Comments

David Dodd Oct. 9, 2009 @ 2:19 p.m.

I don't think the ex-pats are changing Baja, I think that the Mexicans are changing it. A lot of the cars with California plates are driven by Mexicans who work in the U.S. Gringos like me don't eat at McDonalds or KFC or Burger King or Carl's Jr., we prefer the local taco stands.

Tijuana is much more affluent than it was twenty years ago.

English is taught as a second language in all schools here. The kids, with the help of television and radio, are learning English more and more. People own cars now, most didn't when I first came here. The paved roads were more of a necessity than a luxury. In fact, the improvements to city infrastucture were long overdue. Now that illegal entry into the U.S. has become so much more difficult, Mexicans who came here for that reason are staying put.

Is the Baja coast being exploited as a haven for ex-pats? No doubt, and it isn't a new trend, but a continuing one. But the core changes in Baja - the roads, buldings, businesses, and so on - are certainly meant for a border town that has suddenly grown into the fourth largest city in Mexico. Fourteen thousand ex-pats are a drop in the population bucket in Baja.

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Fulano de Tal Oct. 11, 2009 @ 6:15 p.m.

Tell me honestly. Was this article written about five years ago and just reprinted? As for where Americans live in Baja, they are more correctly called "Gringo Ghettos".

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PartyTime April 9, 2011 @ 1:50 p.m.

Does the word ghetto in Gringo Ghettos come anywhere close to accurately describing their neighborhood?

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