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First Friday: ‘Sister City’ relationships sought with Puebla, Santiago de los Caballeros

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


Toledo soon may have two additional Sister Cities, if the current efforts bear fruit in the coming months. The Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center (SQACC) is spearheading the effort to seek relationships with Santiago de los Caballeros in the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic as well as Puebla, Mexico.


Toledo, Ohio USA, already has a Sister City relationship with: Toledo, Spain; Szeged, Hungry; Poznan, Poland; Delmenhorst, Germany; Londrina, Brazil; Tanga, Tanzania; Qinhuangdao, China; and Toyohashi, Japan—all of which is managed by Toledo Sister Cities International.


Sister Cities relationships usually involve governmental, cultural, economic, and educational exchanges between the two international communities.


SQACC board members Lourdes Santiago and Milva Valenzuela-Wagner provided an update on the group’s efforts during the Center’s monthly First Friday event on Aug. 3, 2012, which also celebrate the art work of Leandra Leroux.


“We have gotten a lot of steps done regarding that connection and establishing that relationship,” said Ms. Santiago. “They were very receptive, just very enchanted that we were there. They are very excited to make this relationship work.” 


She explained a contingent had already traveled to Santiago de los Caballeros earlier this year to meet with the mayor and other local officials there. Currently, the Dominican city only has one other Sister City relationship, a twinning agreement with New York City.


“We were also able to meet extensively with a business owner there who processes different fruits, primarily pineapple,” said Ms. Santiago of the Santiago de los Caballeros trip. “That commercial entity just visited Toledo. The individual met with the Regional Growth Partnership and they’re already talking about what’s needed to bring some of their products here. We also gave a sample of his products to The Andersons (specialty food store).”


The effort is far enough along that the group is trying to coordinate a follow-up visit in January with Toledo Mayor Mike Bell to formalize the relationship at the invitation of the mayor of the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic. A SQACC board member currently is organizing that second trip, which the group hopes will include a climb up Pico de Duarte, the highest peak in all the Caribbean islands. Ms. Santiago called it “an enticement” for Toledo’s notoriously adventurous mayor


“Because I’m sure he would get into something like that,” she said with a wide grin.


There is a small population of Latinos that have settled in Toledo, who originally hail from the Dominican Republic, including Ms. Valenzuela-Wagner.


Felix Hernández-Rodríguez also came to the Glass City in recent years from Santiago de los Caballeros to go into business rolling cigars for five local shops. He also travels to local events, such as weddings and golf outings, and gives demonstrations, handpicking tobacco leaves for the best combinations of quality and to promote unique flavor.


“I hope there is a family-related connection between Santiago and Toledo,” he said in Spanish, translated by Ms. Valenzuela-Wagner. “Cultural exchanges, religious exchanges and sports-related (are all possible). We can bring people here for sports events, artistic events.”


Santiago de los Caballeros (English: Saint James of the Knights or Gentlemen) was founded in 1495, one of the first cities established by Spanish explorers in the New World. Santiago de los Caballeros has at times been the capital of the country, and was an important strategic city in the Dominican War of Independence in 1844.


“There is a lot of culture on the whole island,” said Ms. Valenzuela-Wagner. “There is a large artist community, a lot of talent.  There are some opportunities for business exchanges. We’ve always had a good relationship with the United States, so there is a lot of potential for what could be developed.”


Arturo Quintero, Mary Jane Flores and others in the Latino community have traveled to the Dominican Republic for years on medical missions and have a strong familiarity with the island nation.


“It just seemed like a really good fit to make the connection,” said Ms. Santiago, who emphasized the importance of both Caribbean and Mexican Sister City relationships in order to actively engage the entire Latino community. Aside from Toledo’s twinning agreement with Toledo, Spain, there is no active relationship with another Spanish-speaking Latin country.


Puebla, Mexico


SQACC board members and other local Latino leaders will travel to Puebla, Mexico next month to meet with city officials there to cement relationships that could lead to a second Sister Cities effort.


Puebla, Mexico, also is of historic significance because of Spanish settlers in the New World. The city was established in 1531 along the main route between the port city of Veracruz and Mexico City. It has been known over the years as the City of Angels, City of Tiles, and Heroic City of Zaragoza.


Puebla's appearance is the most European of all the colonial cities, because it was planned from the ground up by a Spanish city designer rather than being built within an existing Indian community. It became well-known throughout Mexico for milling, textiles, exquisitely decorated pottery and tiles, and for the architectural beauty.


Puebla is also the reason that anyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo—where General Zaragoza led Mexican soldiers to an unlikely victory over the much larger French army in 1862. The city was later officially renamed Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza in the general’s honor. Puebla celebrated the 150th anniversary of this historic event  in May with a huge fiesta, including a military parade, a re-enactment of the battle, and an international mole festival.


“Of course, we have a great affinity because of the Mexican-American community that’s in Toledo,” said Ms. Santiago. “We’ve already made some headway there. For example, we want to bring the Talavera tile to Toledo and hopefully incorporate some of that into some of the housing that is developed in the area.”


Talavera pottery, in general, and tile, in particular, are highly-sought and only made in Puebla and a handful of surrounding communities. It is unique because of its milky-white glaze, the quality of the natural clay found in the region, and the tradition of production which goes back to the 16th century. Talavera tile is colorful and ingrained in the architecture of Puebla’s churches and other historic buildings.


SQACC leaders believe developing both a Caribbean and Mexican Sister Cities will offer a chance to engage the entire Latino community in the effort, as well as encourage young people to learn more about their heritage and keep family and cultural traditions alive.


“It is the community we’re using to make sure this happens,” explained Ms. Santiago. “We need to make sure our community is engaged with the project so we don’t put the cart before the horse. It’s very exciting.”


Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/07/12 18:38:37 -0700.





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