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 A Message from the Peace Commission

Feb 15, 2008

Information on Cambridge's Sister Cities

A Sister City is an official relationship between two cities that promotes peace through mutual respect, understanding, & cooperation - one individual, one community at a time. Cambridge has established seventeen sister-city relationships since 1982.

Sister-city relationships create international awareness and understanding through cultural, educational, civic, and business exchanges with our international partner cities. A sister city relationship empowers individuals, organizations, educators, businesses, and municipal officials to act as citizen diplomats.

Cambridge is a member of Sister Cities International. As the official organization which links jurisdictions from the United States with communities worldwide, Sister Cities International is an international membership organization that recognizes, registers, and coordinates sister city, county, municipalities, oblasts, prefectures, provinces, regions, state, town, and village linkages. For more information, visit their website at

Cambridge's Sister City Relationships:
Cambridge has seven official sister cities with active relationships.
* Cienfuegos, Cuba: established May 2005 -- contact: Rena Leib – 617.354.4390
* Coimbra, Portugal: established June 1982
* Gaeta, Italy: established December 1982
* Tsukuba, Japan: established October 1983
* San José Las Flores, Chalatenango, El Salvador: established March 1987 -- contact: James Wallace 617.864.6047
* Yerevan, Armenia: established April 1987 --
* Galway, Ireland: established March 1997

Cambridge has ten additional official sister cities:
* Dublin, Ireland: October 1983
* Ischia, Italy: June 1984
* Catania, Italy: February 1987
* Kraków, Poland: October 1989
* Florence, Italy: March 1992
* Santo Domingo Oeste, Dominican Republic: May 2003
* Southwark, London, England: June 2004
* Yuseong, Daejeon, Korea: February 2005
* Haidian, Beijing, China: March 2005

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.

In Cambridge, a group of people, usually composed primarily of residents, brings a request to connect with another community to the city government. The Cambridge City Council must pass a resolution to establish an official sister-city relationship. In many cases, a volunteer sister city committee builds the relationship, keeps the connection active, and raises 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 two municipalities. Some have very large committees and a lot of ongoing contact with active exchanges between with delegations. Some keep a basic ongoing connection with some information available. Most of the sister cities are communities already have ties to Cambridge.

Three of Cambrdge's sister cities came into being around issues related to peace and justice:

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 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 massive government spending for military purposes 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 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 José Las Flores, Chalatenango, 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 José 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 José Las Flores. Cambridge teachers have worked with San José Las Flores classes exchanging letters and materials from Cambridge students and new ways of teaching. Third, eight delegations have gone to San José Las Flores which has included high school students. These youth have met with youth in the village and developed a joint network 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 Cuban-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. In addition, 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 created some of 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.


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