Cultural Exchanges in Ashland
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 of the US Fish and Wildlife Forensic Lab.
Now in the 48th year in 2017 of our official Sister City relationship with Guanajuato, Mexico, excitement is brewing over plans to honor the 50th in just three years 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 for more than 40 years has kept 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 40th anniversary Celebration.