Beatriz Rocha was born on April 25, 1925 in Calexico, California. Her father, Rafael Romero, was from Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico. His ancestors were originally from Spain, although the family wasn’t sure if his ancestors also had French or Portuguese origins. His family may also have been some of the original settlers of Baja California from about the early 1800s. As far as is known, the first Romero in 1796 came to Baja California in 1796 alongside the Church fathers who wanted to colonize the peninsula.
Bea’s mother, Andrea Walk was born in Higuera de Zaragoza, a community on the west coast of mainland Sinaloa, Mexico. Her family moved across the Gulf to Santa Rosalia, Baja California, Mexico around 1900. Andrea’s mother was Mexican and her father escaped from Germany in the 1800s when Jews were being persecuted there. (Originally, his name had been ‘Volk’, but in Mexico it was changed to the Anglicized ‘Walk’.)
Rafael met his wife Andrea Walk in Santa Rosalia, Baja California while working for “El Bolero,” the French Copper Mining Company. Rafael and Andrea left Mexico when Rafael went to study in San Francisco, California. They then moved to Mexicali where Rafael became a (judge) registar civil and owned a grocery store. However, the family starting hearing that Catholics were being persecuted on the mainland of Mexico. Fearing for their safety, they went to live in Calexico where Rafael’s parents owned a house. Andrea and Rafael had seven children, but only Beatriz, the next to the youngest, was born in Calexico.
In 1936 Rafael passed away in Mexicali. At that moment, Andrea and the children moved to Tijuana where they stayed with Andrea’s sister Sophie. Beatriz would also stay with her grown married sister who had moved to San Ysidro. Beatriz recalled staying in a cute little yellow house with a guest room in the back. San Ysidro was a farming community where cows roamed in vacant lots and alfalfa was grown.
She also attended Mt. Carmel Catholic School in San Ysidro, often going back and forth across the border. She recalls that there were four little houses that were turned into classrooms. Although the nuns themselves spoke very little English, the children were never allowed to speak Spanish in school or they would be punished. Beatriz fondly recalls how the school had a choir and she was second voice. The nuns taught them to sing in English, Spanish and Latin. They were also so strict that the children couldn’t pass from one verse to another until they had perfect pronunciation. As a consequence, Mt. Carmel Catholic School won a best choir award for all of San Diego, and at one time sang for the Bishop.
In high school, Beatriz moved to Los Angeles to live with her aunt. She returned to the South Bay and volunteered to work at Rohr Industries for about two years during WWII. Specifically, she drilled together panels of the planes. She was moved to the “parts department’ a bit later to give out parts needed to build the planes.
She remembers crossing the border frequently and that the immigration officers knew everybody. Once, while crossing to go to work Bea dropped her lunch bag and a cupcake rolled out onto the pavement, to her embarrassment. From that time on, all the immigration officers called her ‘cupcake’ anytime she crossed the border.
In 1950 Beatriz married Juan Rocha.
Born 1923 in San Diego, Juan spent most of his life living on both sides of the border. Juan’s father, Juan Rocha Roldan (b. 1887, Tlanepantla, Guanajuanto, Mexico) was a Mexican Army Officer during the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship. He served mostly in Tijuana and traveled as far east as Mexicali. He also served on the military base in Ensenada which is still the center of operations for all of Baja California. In Tijuana he was Capitan of the Garrison of the 25th Battalion of the Plaza. He also defended the border from Tijuana to Mexicali against the 1911 revolutionary followers of Ricardo Flores Magon.
Three of Juan Rocha Roldan’s sons (who were fluent in Spanish and English and went to school on both sides of the border) served in the army during WWII: Jose Roberto, Juan Jose and Oscar Estevan.
(Interview: March 14, 2016)