Imperial Beach, Calif. (Border Report) — Outgoing Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina moved to this small California border town 51 years ago.

Growing up he developed a love for surfing and the ocean.

In 2000, he established WILDCOAST, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting the ocean and other sensitive habitats.

Eight years ago, he became mayor of his hometown, winning by fewer than 50 votes.

This week, he is walking away from politics.

“As a small town mayor on the U.S.-Mexico border who speaks Spanish and English and grew up here, it’s been a pretty amazing journey,” said Dedina.

During his tenure as mayor of Imperial Beach, Dedina cemented and created a wide array of political relationships on both sides of the border earning him the unofficial title of ambassador.

Serge Dedina has been the mayor of Imperial Beach, Calif. for the last eight years. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

Border Report spoke with him as he looked back at how much he’s learned about the border and how both Mexico and the U.S. are codependent in many ways.

“Meeting in the White House with President Trump, meeting with AMLO, Mexico’s president López Obrador and to be able to convene meetings with the governors of Baja California and California, and to understand what was actually required to do work on both sides of the border and to make sure what happens in Mexico City and Washington addresses the needs on the ground.”

Dedina said these last eight years gave him an appreciation for how vital this part of the southern border is and what it means to the United States economy.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars that go across the border every year are vital to the United States and Mexico’s economy, especially the American economy in terms of jobs and economic output,” he said. “We depend on that trade with Mexico and Mexico depends on that trade with us.”

Dedina also discussed trying to do away with misconceptions of life on the border, like the time he was visiting an area near the Montana-Idaho border and he struck up a conversation with a group of men who lived in the area.

“The immediate stereotype of the border is that it’s a war zone,” he said. “The border I grew up in, live in and work in, is a gorgeous place where people try to make a living and work with each other. You have to support that cross-border and diplomatic partnership because we have to get along, we have to work together and you have two great countries that need each other now more than ever.”

When asked about the immigration crisis at the border, Dedina said there’s a lot of work to be done.

“When we divide people apart, that’s when things break down. The job of government is to make things better and do good for people,” said Dedina. “We have to go back to square one start really investing in southern Mexico, Central America, places like Venezuela that are collapsing. If we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to have problems and we need to continue supporting Mexico and these huge amounts of refugees and immigrants that are arriving at their border, it’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get harder.”