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Arlington Sister City Association honors 20th anniversary of first partnership and launch of oral history project.

The Arlington Sister City Association is throwing a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first international partnership, with Aachen, Germany, and its subsequent relationships in France, El Salvador, Ukraine and Mexico, and its new oral history project. ASCA's event is by invitation only on Monday, May 5, 7-9 p.m. at the Arlington Arts Council, 3550 Wilson Blvd. Anyone interested in attending and learning more about the organization and getting involved can contact Emily Morrison 202-299-0262 or emorrison@arlingtonsistercity.org. It's been 20 years since a group of former diplomats and others interested in foreign relationships reached out to the city of Aachen, Germany, to create a partnership with Arlington.

Hundreds of exchange students and four additional cities later, the Arlington Sister City Association is taking a moment to celebrate its achievements while honoring the past, with the launch of an oral history project that chronicles the program from the beginning with an eye to the future.

A multifaceted operation, ASCA hosts and organizes exchange programs for students from Arlington to each of its five sister cities: Aachen; Coyoacan, Mexico; Reims, France; San Miguel, El Salvador, and Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. In some cities, it brings together businesses and entrepreneurs to discuss development and possible collaborations.

This summer, 19 students from Arlington will be going to Aachen, where they'll be treated to a celebration on July 4 honoring not just America's birthday but the 20th anniversary of the sister city relationship, said Jennifer Wright, an ASCA board member and representative on the Aachen committee who helps facilitate the exchange trips. And that's just one exchange trip — others are being worked out for this year, including a bike tour that will go from Germany to France through Belgium, which is a special trip scheduled for the 20th anniversary.

"We don't normally do a big party this time of year," she said with a laugh, as the organization is throwing a celebration on May 5 to commemorate the milestone and introduce an oral history project, in which volunteers and members explain their involvement with the international organization. Wright is involved in the celebration while also helping to find host families in Germany for Arlington students and ensuring German students who will open their homes to Arlingtonians will have a place for them during a subsequent exchange.

The student trips are an example of what a sister city relationship is about: Bringing together people from far-flung corners of the world and introducing them to different cultures. It builds relationships and helps the communities in distinct ways. The partnership with San Miguel has a "pageant" each year in which contestants earn votes through donations, and the winner takes the organization's donation, typically around $20,000, along with books, medical supplies and other items, to the city during an exchange trip, Wright said.

To preserve the memories associated with these trips, and to protect the legacy of how ASCA came to be and how it grew, a few years ago, members and participants started recording their oral histories, to be launched to the public on May 5, said Carl Lankowski, president of the Aachen committee and an editor for the oral history project.

Visitors to the organization's website, www.arlingtonsistercity.com, will find transcripts for interviews with some of the founding members of ASCA. Some 21 interviews have been completed and are in the process of being uploaded, he said.

"We've targeted three types of people: Those who have worked for one or more of the five committees; people who are on the board of directors currently or were previously; and some members of the Arlington County Board," who give their thoughts on why such a program is important.

Many of those interviewed will be on hand during the anniversary celebration next week. Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, J. Walter Tejada of the Arlington County Board and state Sen. Barbara Favola will be there, joined by the international contingent of Olivier Serot-Almeras, Consul-General of France, Karlfried Bergner, Minister-Counselor for Cultural Affairs with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Daniel Serwer, a former diplomat and author of “Righting the Balance: How You Can Help Protect America.” "He was head of peace operations for Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans," Lankowski said. The book is "less about the State Department and more about people-to-people diplomacy," a stronghold of organizations like ASCA.

There will also be tables for each sister city and information on exchange program along with photos and a slide presentation of the organization's efforts internationally.

The anniversary celebration is "an important moment in our relationship with the rest of the world," he said.