FRESNO, Calif. — Raul Sanchez left Mexico for the United States more than 30 years ago, but he still wouldn't miss a chance to see the president of his homeland in his adopted hometown.
The retired farm worker planned to be among several thousand expected Thursday at a rally at Fresno's convention center to hear Mexican President Vicente Fox.
"Of course I'm coming to see our president," said Sanchez, 77, who had plastic streamers in the colors of the Mexican flag — green, white and red — dangling from his bike's handlebars. "We're coming with a big group — cousins, brothers, friends, everyone."
Fox is on his first trip to the United States since taking office in December. The visit is part of Fox's effort to strengthen ties with investors and Mexican immigrants in California.
He arrived in California Wednesday, calling for the United States, Mexico and Canada to create a common energy policy and pledging to help California overcome its energy crisis.
California officials — struggling for months with a tight power supply — have ordered rolling blackouts four times this year, including twice this week.
In a speech to state lawmakers in Sacramento, Fox drew applause with his promise that Mexico would continue to supply surplus electricity to California. But he added that Mexico could not provide a "magic solution" to the state's power problems.
Although Mexico has had problems meeting its own energy needs, Fox promised President Bush last month that he would work with the United States to put together a regional energy plan.
After Thursday's rally with agriculture workers, Fox planned to visit an elementary school in San Fernando with first lady Laura Bush and attend a town hall meeting in Los Angeles with Gov. Gray Davis.
Since Davis took office, Mexico has become California's largest trading partner. Davis and several California officials traveled to Mexico for Fox's inauguration and pledged to work with him to increase trade and make sure immigrants are not mistreated.
Fox, the first opposition presidential candidate to defeat the Institutional Revolutionary Party that has ruled Mexico since 1929, has pledged sweeping reforms, including tackling corruption.
Residents of the San Joaquin Valley see symbolic importance in his Fresno stop. Many consider the visit overdue recognition for the generations of men and women who fled Mexico to work in the fields and factories of the United States to support families back home.
"This is historic," said Tanis Ybarra, the secretary-treasurer of the United Farm Workers of America, a union founded in the San Joquin Valley. "It doesn't matter where you go, that's what people are talking about, the president is coming to Fresno."
Not everyone is as enthusiastic about Fox's visit.
Organizers of a protest planned for Thursday say Fox and Davis need to do more for the rights of workers and the poor on both sides of the border.
"The honeymoon is over," said protester Leonel Flores, referring to Fox's first 100 days in office. "We're ready to see some changes."