50 years of friendship –
our sister city – Guanajuato, Mexico
Cultural exchanges have occurred for many decades in Ashland due to the international connections in education first created by Southern Oregon University with faculty and student exchanges. Today, we experience an expansion of global connections through businesses conducting international business, theatre and music exchanges and as the home US Fish and Wildlife Forensic Lab.
In 2019, we celebrated the 50th year of our official Sister City relationship with Guanajuato, Mexico of this much-beloved cultural partnership. In the late 1960’s, a Southern Oregon University language professor rented a bus and took some students to Mexico over Christmas vacation. The idea caught on and the professor, Graciela “Señora Chela” Tapp-Kocks, began leading students and community members on annual visits. The featured destination was Guanajuato, a colonial mining town and cultural center in the mountains of the Sierra de Guanajuato in Central Mexico. Inspired by their people-to-people contacts, Sra. Chela and a group of enthusiastic community boosters became the support network for the exchange of students, academics, professionals, city officials and common citizens between the two cities. The Amigo Club grew out of that group in 1969. The Amigos pushed hard for the Sister City affiliation, and its academic members encouraged the founding of the Amistad student-exchange program between Southern Oregon University and the Universidad de Guanajuato that is still thriving today. This association has been of great benefit to students, faculty and administrators from the two institutions, and residents of both cities. The Ashland Chamber shares a business and cultural exchange with Guanajuato. The Amigo Club remains the key support group that has helped keep alive Ashland’s enthusiasm for the Sister City relationship with Guanajuato.
There are many reasons that Ashland, Guanajuato and our respective schools are such logical and successful choices as Sister Cities and Universities. Both cities are the home to Universities. Both cities have beautiful parks and tourism plays a major role in both economies. Both have central plazas and are known cultural centers in their respective regions valuing historic and architectural preservation.
As a World Heritage site, and stated in their publication, “Guanajuato is nestled in a narrow gorge of the Sierra Madre in the heart of Mexico, and is one of those post-Columbian towns hewn out of rock that seem to spring straight from the mountains. The town lies above a network of subterranean streets. Its majestic old mansions, baroque and neo-classical churches, palaces, convents and hospital have all the charm of a bygone era.”
Guanajuato’s counterpart to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the International Cervantes Festival (Festival Internacional Cervantino), an annual three-week celebration in October that features artists from around the world. The festival is considered one of Latin America’s most important cultural events. Guanajuato is home to many artists and galleries. It is the birthplace in 1886 of Diego Rivera, the muralist credited with single-handedly changing the course of a country’s art. Founded in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world’s leading silver-extraction center in the 18th century. It played a major role in the War of Independence led by the rebel priest Miguel Hidalgo in 1810.
Lions and Rotary Clubs work to make their international aspects have local meaning as they work with their counterparts in Guanajuato. They cooperate in projects such as housing, medical supplies, and emergency equipment. Lion, Leo VanDijk, was honored for his work during the 50th anniversary Celebration.
Ashland residents, Barry and Kathryn Thalden, through their philanthropy envisioned and coordinated the idea of having two murals, one in each city, symbolizing not only the sister city relationship but the shared appreciation of the arts and culture fostering tourism and creating community pride. In Ashland, the mural is on Calle Guanajuato, located behind the downtown Plaza buildings, entitled “Streets of Guanajuato” by mural painter, Laura “Loreta” Rangel Villasenor. Laura was in residence in Ashland while painting the mural, worked with selected SOU art students and received technical support from local Ashland artist and muralist, Denise Baxter. The second mural, “Where Culture Meets Nature” incorporating highlights of Ashland scenes is located near the entrance to the City of Guanajuato and near Calle Ashland. Ashland artist, Denise Baxter, designed and painted the mural with the assistance of art students from the University of Guanajuato.
The people-to-people relation-ship is most prized on both sides of the sister city relationship having formed hundreds of friendships and over eighty marriages! Senora Chela was honored by Guanajuato as their Citizen of the Year for 2019 and she was honored by Ashland as the 2019 Grand Marshal in the 4th of July Parade honoring 50 years of international friendship.