What is a Sister City?
A Sister City is an official relationship between 2 municipalities. In Cambridge, a group of people, usually composed primarily of residents, present a request to connect with another community which is then passed by the Cambridge City Council.
The Sister City Committee defines the relationship, keeps the connection going and raise whatever funds are needed. The official nature of the relationship opens doors for receptions by city officials, exchanges with city departments and access to city institutions. At the citizen level, sister city committees are open to all and draw from a diverse membership including educators, religious people, health workers, artists and neighborhood residents.
The idea behind sister cities vary widely. Some are created to address an issue of injustice or solidarity. Others are expressions of friendship between 2 municipalities.
Some have very large committees and a lot of on-going contact with active exchanges between with delegations. Some keep a basic on-going connection with some information available. Most of the sister cities are communities already have ties to Cambridge.
Why get involved? Some Cambridge people join out of a personal connection to a city. Some join as way to become informed about another city or to affect the conditions facing that community. Some want to be a part of a delegation because it provides an interesting and very human way to learn about a place and people in another country. Some want to be part of the citizen-to-citizen exchange movement and some are eager to represent Cambridge in an official way.
Which cities is Cambridge sistered with? Cambridge has 7 official sister cities.
San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador
There have been other efforts to create sister cities that have not beeen sustained. A very diverse committee of residents and city officials met over several years and initiated a relationship with Bulawayo, Zimbabwe as part of the desire for an African Sister City. After endorsing the relationship, the contacts in Bulawayo changes and governmental policies there made the relationship unviable.
At another time, a committee of Cambridge citizens active in peace issues in the Middle East suggested the idea for a sister city relationship between Cambridge and Ramallah/El Bireh on the West Bank. This did not muster enough city council support to move forward.
An unofficial relationship exists between Cambridge, Mass. and Cambridge, England.
What are some of the examples of sister city efforts? Several sister cities came into being around issues related to peace.
Yerevan, Armenia The choice of Yerevan in 1985 was the result of a search for a city in the Soviet Union which could help counter the misinformation and images of the "Evil Empire". Many in the peace communities at that time worried about the Cold War, nuclear weapons build-up and use of citizen tax dollars being spent for military build-up justified by a fear of the Soviet Union. They were looking for a way to create citizen-to-citizen exchanges which could interrupt the fear-based stereotyping of Soviet peoples and help to foster dialogue and friendship. Yerevan was also selected partly because of the large Armenian community in the Cambridge-area. With the end of the Soviet Union, the connection with Yerevan remains very strong. There have been exchanges on matters like water systems and technological issues, exchanges of youth and artists as well as help in difficult times such as the earthquake.
San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador In 1986, a small group of Salvadoran families being held in a refugee camp in San Salvador decided to return to their community of origin the rural village of San Jose Las Flores with the help of the Catholic Church and international solidarity. These civilian peasants had fled their homes many times in reaction to raids and killings by the military. Because the U.S. government supplied the money for the military ($1.8 million a day for 12 years), the community had the idea to reach out to a U.S. city as a partner - to bring attention to their situation and offer protection. Cambridge, home to many Salvadorans, faith-based and secular groups opposed to U.S. intervention and a sympatric city council was approached. In March of 1987, the link was made official. When 11 members of the community were captured by the military a month later, telegrams and calls from city officials and residents to the US embassy resulted in their safe release.
Initial delegations from Cambridge focused on taking aid and messages to the community (which was cut off by the military) and bringing home stories of the conditions under war. Delegations included clergy and church members, health workers, and Central America activists. Delegates created a series of slide shows and a video to dramatize the conditions under war and the struggle of the community to live in peace. These images enlightened students and neighborhoods to the beauty and resiliency of Salvadorans and spurred many to try to end U.S. government support for the war.
With the end of U.S. aid, the Peace Accords were signed in 1992. Some of the delegations since that time focused on support and learning about preserving self-determination in the face of economic privatization and participation in fair elections. A second focus has been teacher delegations drawn to the community-based popular education in San Jose Las Flores. Cambridge teachers have worked with Las Flores classes exchanging letters and materials from Cambridge students and new ways of teaching. Thirdly, 6 delegations have gone to Las Flores which has included high school students. These youth have met with youth in the village and developed a joint network which is called VIVA. Recent delegations have also included Salvadorans living in Cambridge as a way to bridge the information and geographic divide.
Cienfuegos, Cuba The most recent sister city is Cienfuegos in Cuba. Following a delegation led by Cambridge State representative Jarrett Barrios, a Cuba-American in January of 2000, Cambridge delegates sponsored a series of open community meetings showing slides and sharing their experiences. The interest that was expressed led to the formation of a committee and official passage by the City Council.
A U.S. embargo put in place decades ago has prevented many in the United States from seeing a clear picture of Cuban life. And U.S. restrictions on travel have made it difficult to have a first-hand experience of Cuba or for many who have relationships with Cuban peoples or groups to maintain those relationships.
The establishment of this sister city enables people to "see for themselves" as well as make up their own mind about the U.S. description of Cuba as a terrorist country or dictatorship Some in Cambridge are already involved in cultural and educational exchanges related to the arts and schools and want to build on those. Some have been interested in Cuba's health care and educational systems which have resulted in the highest health standards and literacy rates in the world. Others are interested in assessing the state of dissent, freedom and participation in that country.
This information is reprinted from the City of Cambridge's Peace Commission webpages.