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Celebrating international sisterhood

Sister Cities International helps foster cultural relationships

On a recent trip to Japan, my husband and I found ourselves in the city of Takayama, a village of less than 100,000 in the mountainous Gifu region. On our first evening, we stopped in a local restaurant and were greeted by the owner who asked where we were from. When he heard the response of Denver the mood in the restaurant suddenly shifted. The owner interrupted the large room filled with business workers unwinding with food and sake to announce that his two new guests were from Denver. I thought it was an odd announcement to make, but wasn’t expecting the reaction we received: people stood up from their seats, clapped and bowed to us.

“Denver is our sister city,” the owner explained.

Throughout our meal, strangers stopped by our table to try and talk to us (with limited English and a lot of help from the Google Translate app) about Denver. They showed us pictures of Colorado students they’ve hosted as part of a cultural exchange program. They asked us about the Denver Broncos and the weather back home. They bought us drinks and told us about a sushi restaurant near Coors Field owned by a woman from Takayama. We had our photos taken. I love to travel, and I’ve had many heartwarming experiences that make me feel like home while abroad, but I’d never quite experienced anything like this. They knew so much about my hometown and yet I knew so little about theirs. It got me thinking: What exactly is a sister city, and what does it mean to be one?

This is what I’ve learned: After World War II, repairing tensions between formally battling nations was a priority for the international diplomatic community. Sister Cities International, the official non-profit that helps cultivate sister city projects, was formed in 1956 during President Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy. The idea was to establish bonds between different countries and cultures in order to work toward international peace and prosperity. Since its inception, the program has created not only numerous global cultural exchanges, but has also seen official trade and partnership programs forged between nations. Today, there are more than 2,000 partnerships between 145 countries on six continents as part of the Sister Cities International program.

While the average Colorado citizen might not know much about their local sister cities, in some places like Takayama it’s a relationship taken very seriously. The program is a gateway to English language learning, a way of importing and exporting local goods, and a celebration of cultural exchange. For me, there was a lot to like about Takayama – its architecture, history, scenery and food – but what will always stand out when I think of this town is the deep affinity and appreciation its people felt for a city 5,800 miles across the world.

Sister City Spotlight

Brighton, Colorado, USA & Ziebice, Poland

A small town of less than 10,000 people, Ziebice is located in the southwestern region of Poland. As sister cities, Brighton and Ziebice have alternated hosting students for cultural exchange for more than 20 years. In 2015, the City of Brighton celebrated this relationship with a Polish Community Celebration. The event featured a variety of Polish dishes, including kielbasa (Polish sausage), pierogi (dumplings) and golumpski (cabbage rolls), as well as performances by Polish musicians.

Boulder, Colorado, USA & Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan, a mountainous country in Central Asia. In this part of the world, teahouses are a cultural gathering spot for friends to meet, catch up and connect over a cup of tea. During his first visit to Boulder in 1987, the former mayor of Dushanbe announced that he would present the city with its very own teahouse as a celebration of their sister city bond. Over the next three years, more than 40 artisans from Tajikistan created Boulder’s Dushanbe Teahouse, a colorful and ornate gathering place featuring sculptures, hand-carved furniture, hand-painted ceiling and ornate craftsmanship. ■

Get involved

Denver Sister Cities International hosts social events for the public to learn more about other cultures and create new friendships. Be on the lookout for informational programs and opportunities to learn more about cultural exchange programs. Visit sister-cities.org and denversistercities.org for more information on how you can get involved.

Denver’s 10 sister cities

  • Axum, Ethiopia
  • Brest, France
  • Chennai, India
  • Cuernavaca, Mexico
  • Karmiel, Israel
  • Kunming, China
  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Potenza, Italy
  • Takayama, Japan
  • Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

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