By Sara Bruskin
The most famous sister-city partnership in our area is undoubtedly the one Boulder shares with Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Locals and tourists alike treasure the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse for its stunning craftsmanship and the cross-cultural friendship it represents. Few people, however, know that Boulder has a whopping 10 sister cities, and Longmont has two of its own.
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded the Sister Cities International program, intending to foster people-to-people diplomacy. The organization’s stated mission is “to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation—one individual, one community at a time.”
Boulder embraced that mission in 1984 with its first sister city, Jalapa, Nicaragua. The relationship began during the height of the Contra War to show solidarity with people living in the war-torn Jalapa Valley. Boulder representatives have since helped fund and construct water systems to bring clean, potable water to more than 2,200 families in the rural area.
In return, artists from Jalapa recently visited Boulder to paint murals and teach workshops on Nicaraguan art and culture. Helen Vernier, board member of the Boulder Jalapa Friendship City Projects, helped facilitate this trip. “As divisive as this world can be, and as hard and uncaring as it can seem, it’s important to know that there are human connections to be made, and they matter,” she says.
Such connections and cultural exchanges have continued and expanded in cities all over the world. Longmont established its first sister city connection with Chino, Japan, in 1991. Ciudad Guzmán, Mexico, followed in 1998, and now there is a thriving student-exchange program between Longmont and both of its “sisters.” Students from Longmont can participate in 10-day trips to Japan or Mexico, and local adults can volunteer to host visiting students or chaperone trips abroad.
It hasn’t been easy, though. Funding is always a challenge, and one of Boulder’s later sister city additions was fraught with controversy—Nablus, Palestine. People were worried that creating sister city ties with Nablus would make a political statement that could drive a wedge into the program. Meanwhile, supporters maintained that building civilian friendships—in spite of political turmoil—captures the spirit of the sister city project.
The Nablus relationship was rejected by Boulder City Council in 2013, but the council reversed its decision in 2016 and welcomed Nablus into the sisterhood in 2017. Since then, Kathmandu, Nepal, and Ramat HaNegev, Israel, have also joined the project.
Sara Martinelli, co-owner of Three Leaf Concepts—the management company that operates the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse—thinks international relationships are invaluable to our society. “These kinds of programs really open the doors to other cultures,” Martinelli says. “By allowing people to actually share experiences, it brings us all closer together in breaking barriers as we focus on what we share rather than our differences.”