By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Before Jorge Hank Rhon became mayor of Tijuana, the two mayors who preceded him only visited San Diego County once or twice.
Since he assumed office last December, Hank has officially visited San Diego more often than the other mayors combined, said Alfonso Busta-mante, director of Binational Affairs for the City of Tijuana.
In fact, Hank will be visiting San Diego twice next week: On Thursday, October 13, he’ll be at San Diego State University, and the next day, Friday, October 14, he’ll have a meeting at the Convention Center with the City of San Diego’s Economic Development Department, Bustamante said.
“Mayor Hank has always been very interested in improving relationships between San Diego and Tijuana,” he said.
Indeed, ever since Hank became mayor he’s looked for ways for Tijuana to have a strong presence in San Diego.
In December Tijuana opened the Office of Binational Affairs next to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), where Bustamante promotes programs that have to do with the city.
“Tijuana’s relations with San Diego County have improved tremendously,” he said.
The office, located in Downtown San Diego, has served as a place to have meetings about different binational projects, such as border crossing and the proposed second Otay Mesa port of entry, Busta-mante said.
During his first official meeting at SANDAG in January of this year, Hank put emphasis on how American tourists can feel safe in Tijuana.
“In every city there are places that aren’t safe, but if tourists stay in tourist places in Tijuana, that we know are safe, then they have nothing to worry about,” Hank said in fluent English.
Among the mayors at the meeting was Steve Padilla from Chula Vista, who said that Tijuana is of great importance to Chula Vista because many residents have family members in both sides of the border.
Hank has been able to make history in Tijuana when early this year, California Ltn. Governor Cruz Bustamante visited the city to announce California would open its first binational office in Tijuana.
Also, after receiving an invitation from Hank, SANDAG held its first meeting across the border.
At the San Diego State presentation, titled “Tijuana: A City Project,” on October 13, Hank will be speaking about immigration issues and how Tijuana and San Diego can help immigrants who try to cross the border illegaly, Bustamante said.
James Gerber, chair of the Department of Latin American Studies at SDSU, said that the department is sponsoring the event because it wants to promote interaction between the university and Tijuana.
“Relations between SDSU and Tijuana aren’t as strong as they should be. I believe we live in a binational, bilingual region. It’s important that professors and students learn more about our border and about Tijuana,” he said.
Gerber said human rights activist Victor Clark-Alfaro invited Hank to come and talk to his students at the class he teaches in Tijuana. When Hank said yes, Clark-Alfaro thought it was a good idea to have the event at SDSU so that more students and the community in general could attend.