Launched in 1956 at President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy, Sister Cities International hosted its 59th annual conference over the weekend in Minneapolis, sister city to Cuernavaca, Mexico; Eldoret, Kenya; Harbin, China; Kuopio, Finland; Najaf, Iraq; Novosibirsk, Russia; Santiago, Chile; Tours, France; Uppsala, Sweden; Basaso, Somalia, and Ibaraki City, Japan.
This year’s conference theme was “Bridging Generations for Peace,” which Mayor Betsy Hodges riffed on in welcoming conference-goers to Minneapolis Friday morning at Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis.
“The mission of Sister Cities International since Day One, the vision from Day One, has been that we could know one another, that we could break bread with one another, that we could share the best of ourselves and the best of our communities with one another in a way that made everybody else not seem so far away and not seem so much the other, but made the world seem very small and close and our peoples very related,” said Hodges to the sweltering and attentive crowd of about 400 volunteers, mayors, governors, and citizen diplomats from all over the world. “And this conference, this ability to come together and celebrate the best of that mission, it’s such an honor to have in the city of Minneapolis.”
After testimonials from Sister Cities representatives from Africa, China, Chile and others, the reception concluded with a recording of John Denver’s Sister Cities International theme song. With the sound of the late Colorado folkie and peace activist singing in the bright sunshine, it was difficult to imagine a more forward-thinking and hopeful bunch of human beings gathered anywhere else on the planet. In voices and photos:
Grace Liu, Sacramento, California (front). “I’m a volunteer from Sacramento; I chaperone 18 students from Sacramento and Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, which is Sacramento’s sister city since 1984, and Sacramento is the capital of California. I attended the conference last year in San Jose, and I love that I get to interact with all the students from all the states. Last night we had orientation and ice breaker games and they are very well behaved and they are here to gain some international perspectives because really, we are living in the age of globalization and they are going to be the world leaders. It’s really important for the American kids because so much of the news is local-focused and people don’t really pay attention to international news.”
Ajaipal Chahal, Santa Clara, California. “Last year I got elected as a youth representative to the board of directors for Sister Cities International, so I’ve been really trying to keep up with all our events and programs. It’s important that students experience other cultures, because three years ago I went to Japan, and it was a life-changing experience, and I think Sister Cities International has changed lots of people’s lives. In Japan, it was great to see how humble and kind people were, and how gracious people could be to people who you’ve just met for two days. They really become your friends for life.”
Soji Omigbodun, Osogbo, Nigeria. In my country, Sister Cities has been so influential but it’s quite unfortunate [because] I am the only one representing my country because of total denial of the many of the people who wanted to attend the conference. But I’m happy to be here, and I bring great things from my people in Nigeria, and we are happy to partner with Sister Cities International. I wish to allow people to know that Nigeria is a very peaceful and loving country with so much diversity and so much culture but it’s quite unfortunate because at the present it is lacking in security, which means a lot of countries see Nigeria as a bad country. But very soon it will be a thing of the past and the insecurity that sweeps Nigeria and the level of the corruption will be a thing of the past. Thank God for the new government we’re having. The government has promised that it will work out a modality to ensure that everything that’s needed to ensure that everything that’s needed to be done to develop the country and it will be done in no distant time. So I’m happy to be a Nigerian.”
Teresa Palacios Olson, Santiago, Chile. “Santiago is Minneapolis’ first sister city. This happened in 1961, and the two mayors created this relationship, which was quiet for 20 years, but in 2010, Minneapolis wanted a sister city in Chile, and so I got involved for the 50th anniversary of Sister Cities International. Many people in Minneapolis and Santiago don’t know about the relationship, but in the past few years, schools between the two cities have exchanged letters and we brought a soccer team to Blaine for the USA Cup.”
KanFing, Camara, Indianapolis. “This is a great way for youths from different countries to get together as a way to find peaceful solutions to the world’s problems in the future. The main problem in the world is intolerance of other people, and people are so stuck in their own ways and differences and prejudices, and I think Sister Cities help us meet other people and see their perspective.”
Fatema Amin and Karlyn Shrob, Aurora, Colorado. “It’s a good way to exchange information, and for networking, for people from all over the world. I work at the community college in Aurora and I have already given out so many of my business cards,” said Amin. “I’m the executive director of Aurora Sister Cities International,” said Shrob. “We have four sister city relationships and our newest one is with Adama, Ethiopia; we have one of the largest Ethiopian-born communities in the country, so that relationship was very important to establish. We’re here to learn how to do more.”
Tian Yuliu and Yongning Lai, Jinan, China. “Our sister city is Sacramento, California,” said Lai. “Communications between the two cities is important to know each other and to make our cities better and better. Through this program we are learning to talk to others. For example, in our group we have Americans and Indians so we can learn what their culture is and we can see the differences between the Chinese and the U.S. and we can learn their habits.”