Fernando Gaxiola is a San Diego-based Mexican wine importer and travel entrepreneur working hard to change Americans’ cultural impressions of Mexico. Several times a month, his company Baja Wine + Food offers trips to the Valle de Guadalupe about an hour south of the California border to explore the region’s booming wine scene. He enjoys watching his guests shed their stereotypes while they discover the beauty of the valley and meet the locals behind the area’s ascendance as a wine powerhouse. “Americans live in a bubble, but when you take them outside the bubble, they enjoy trying and learning about new things,” says Gaxiola, who started Baja Wine + Food in 2013. “The more you cultivate cross-border relationships, the more you grow personally and as a country.”
Gaxiola believes our immigration system could benefit from such an attitude of openness. He’s in support of reform that provides an expanded guest worker program, which he says is a win-win for the United States. Not only do American employers benefit from a bigger labor pool they need to stay competitive, those immigrants boost the economy by contributing their unique talents and perspectives and paying taxes. “The current talk on immigration should be about how we can transition to a modern law so everyone involved can benefit from it,” he says.
Gaxiola, 38, who came to the United States in 2005 from Mexico City as a graduate student to study global business at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has already made waves in the American culinary and wine industry and created three jobs. Within three years of launching his company, he now imports 20,000 cases of wine from Mexico mostly for California and has hit the $1 million mark in yearly revenue. In addition to branching out into travel, Baja Wine + Food also offers public relations and branding services for wineries. In 2016, San Diego Magazine named him a “cross-border leader” finalist in its annual Latino Impact awards.
The more you cultivate cross-border relationships, the more you grow personally and as a country.
Gaxiola fell in love with the Valle de Guadalupe at age 10 when his family moved from the Mexican state of Sinaloa to Tijuana so his father could start an electricity company to deliver power to the region. He kept returning for visits while he was working in Mexico City for an oil company and throughout graduate school. “There were talented wine-makers making excellent wines, and production was increasing rapidly, yet Americans didn’t know about them,” he says. “I realized there was a huge opportunity to market Mexican wine in the U.S.” After graduating from ASU, he got married to a U.S. citizen and worked as a consultant for a couple of years before deciding to pursue his passion full-time. He discovered how much Americans enjoyed the Valle’s food and wine after taking members from his alumni group on trips there. “The more people are exposed to different cultures, the more we’re going to be enriched from these cultures,“ says Gaxiola.
Such cross-cultural enrichment also involves recognizing the cultural and economic contributions that immigrants bring to the United States with smart, sensible reform. “We need to celebrate innovation on both sides of the border,” he says. “We are facing new threats for immigrants, but I only see opportunities. The strongest warriors arise in the darkest of times.”