Form a line up of nationalities and the smart money would be on Atalo de la Rocha being picked as the Mexican.

Even without the traditional sombrero and background cactus his swarthy looks are a dead giveaway – or is this a case of looks being deceptive?

Indeed it is. Despite his very Mexican name Atalo's half Kiwi on his mother's side.

It's approaching 50 years since she left her homeland, never to return. As he puts it he was born a Mexican, raised a Mexican.


But he's never forgotten the bond he formed with New Zealand during early childhood holidays with his Wellington grandparents.

"I have these great memories, my grandmother sending me off to play with those small boxes of raisins Kiwi kids have, swimming lessons, chocolate mints from the local dairy."

Maybe such recollections sparked some subliminal influence when he chose to move his family here from Mexico, but the reality was he did so because of the safety Mexico couldn't offer.

"My first wife and I were planning a family, we wanted them to have that quality of life they couldn't have there, somewhere we didn't have to look over our shoulders fearing they would be kidnapped or one of us just disappear."

Such things are commonplace in Mexico with its drug cartels, vicious criminal acts and crimes against women. Atalo wanted out.

We interrupt him with the question his words raise, it's his views on Trump's wall-building plans for the US-Mexico border.

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He answers with a poser of his own: "Will a wall/fence make a difference on illegal immigration to the US, stop drugs getting into the country? Most likely not."

Long before his decision to quit his country he'd lost faith in its justice system. Leaving school he enrolled in the University of Hidalgo to study law. "There I realised the lack of integrity in the justice system."

He dropped out, opening a deli-restaurant.

"My dad has a restaurant on his farm, I'd worked in it since I was 11 or 12."

When he married at 21 Atalo handed over his enterprise's ownership, looking for a "real" job.

"No one wanted to employ me because my family was seen as wealthy so bosses didn't think I'd last long. I've always had high expectations, sometimes they are completely unreachable and it's created a lot of problems but I'm a believer if you want something go for it, even if it takes time."

Eventually his application to a five-star hotel struck gold. "They wanted someone bi-lingual on reception, because of my knowledge of English I was employed."

His aspirations were to climb the hotel hierarchical ladder. "I'd do three shifts in a row 7am to 7am because I wanted to grow in the company."

He and the hotel's Forbes rich-lister owner bonded. When a new general manager was appointed Atalo became his assistant - they didn't bond.

"He was very old fashioned, I'd studied new techniques, wanted to introduce computers, the internet, he resisted, we started to clash."

Atalo handed in his notice but the owner told him to hold his horses. "He relocated the general manager to a four-star hotel, appointed me general manager, at 25 I became the youngest five star hotel manager in the city."

He began to work closely with the Ministry of Tourism, involved in promotion and was in on the ground floor when a mega conference venue was built.

Meanwhile finances were taking a dip at the hotel his predecessor had been sidelined to, the owner included his protégée in the team he sent to troubleshoot.

"We found he was stealing from the business, the owner made me general manager of both hotels."

His workload expanded when the "big boss" appointed him his company's director of operations, hotels apart his portfolio included shopping malls and an office tower.

Atalo had also become financial controller of the region's hotel and motel association.

In his words he was a "busy guy".

"I'd start at 7am, not finish until midnight, that's the Mexican lifestyle, you work hard because there's so much competition, if the GM's job was advertised there'd be hundreds queuing to push me out."

Trials and tribulations went with the territory. Atalo had a run-in with Mexico's strict unionisation. "I was very rigorous with staff, the unions didn't like it, there were threats to strike but we negotiated out of that crisis. One of the hotels flooded twice because of hurricanes."

The mounting stress was taking its toll. After 15 years with the group Atalo made that "let's move to New Zealand" decision in 2008.

It brought a bonus, the baby he and his former wife had been trying so long to conceive. "We'd only been here a little while when boom, she was pregnant."

The couple began to get to know New Zealand, touring the North Island. A Rotorua stopover did not suit their hot Mexican blood. " I said 'God I could never live here', there was white frost everywhere and it smelt so bad."

Circumstances brought an about face.

Despite his impressive Mexican CV no one wanted to employ him.

"I kept being told I had no New Zealand experience, then I heard Sudima Rotorua needed an executive housekeeper."

The job was his, and in the decade that followed Atalo criss-crossed the departments, heading it for the past two years.

His daughter was born in Rotorua. He shares her upbringing with his former wife - they separated in 2013.

A month ago today he remarried, his bride local woman Michelle Roper.

"I first saw her when she came to work in the front office, I thought she was so gorgeous but had to be professional about it."

Their girls brought them together when his daughter was invited to Michelle's daughter's birthday party.

"Our girls call each other sisters. Mexicans are like Māori , whānau are tight like the kernels on a corn cob."

Under Atalo's watch Sudima's made a community commitment, offering annual Waikato University tourism management scholarships for Ngati Whakaue descendants, employing them once they graduate.

"We support Love Soup, providing food so nothing goes to waste, 350kg in the last four months, staff do regular clean ups around the lake near the hotel, we always try and support local fundraising events with prizes, gift vouchers.

"It's all part of being in this wonderful place that's Rotorua, as a Mexican I'm proud to call it my home."

Facts about Atalo de la Rocha:

Born: Mexico City, 1972

Education: Mexico City, University of Hidalgo

Family: Newly-minted wife Michelle Roper, 2 "blended" daughters; parents, brother in Mexico

Interests: Family. "It means everything to me." Research. "At present I'm looking at the origins of the octopus, following the theory they come from outer space." Anything science, biology, astronomy-related. History. "Especially New Zealand's last 50 years." Environmental initiatives.

On being Mexican-Kiwi: "I'm lucky to have experienced both cultures but I still feel Mexican."

On New Zealand: "The most beautiful place in the world. If it wasn't so far from everywhere else it would be a world leader. I think New Zealand should be kept a secret. I shouldn't say that I'm in tourism."

On his life: "An amazing journey full of challenges and successes."

Personal philosophy: "There's no big challenge that can't be achieved."