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November 8, 2011 > Sister cities festival

Sister cities festival

By Simon Wong

Following Union City's Seventh Annual Sister Festival in August 2011, at the Ralph & Mary Ruggieri Senior Center, TCV interviewed Union City Planning Commissioner Lee Guio (LG)

TCV: How long did it take to organize the Festival?

LG: We tend to have meetings about once a month and started planning for this year's festival around April. As the event draws closer we meet every two weeks. Now that we've held this event for several years, the necessary planning time is reduced. Anything that we haven't done before usually takes longer.

TCV: What does the Festival mean to the City and to the community? It has been a successful annual event. If it were discontinued, what would the impact be?

LG: My thoughts on this are based on my time as a Human Relations Commissioner. In a way, this event and the Human Relations Commission share similar goals. Both work to reduce social problems among people. The Sister City Festival does so by helping to promote understanding of other cultures. I think of it as a step-by-step process: exposure, understanding, acceptance and, finally, enjoyment. Each step can lead to the next. Conversely, if you are never exposed to another culture, it can be very difficult to understand and accept which can lead to prejudice and ill feeling.

As with advertising, it is difficult to measure the results quantitatively. Perhaps, one might refer to the statistics for racially motivated crimes or survey people's acceptance levels of other cultures and peoples but that is expensive to do. However, most of us agree that without events like the Sister City Festival, Union City would be a slightly less enjoyable place in which to live.

TCV: How important is it for Union City to have relationships with sister cities around the world?

LG: Union City's population is very diverse with segments from several different cultures and countries. This diversity makes relationships with sister cities very important. It is an opportunity for Union City residents to work with the countries from which they have come and build pride and understanding.

Sister city relationships can be very broad and can connect people in many different and varied ways. The importance and benefits to each sister city varies from relationship to relationship. Generally, the benefits fall into three main categories - cultural enrichment, economic development and technical enrichment. Some examples include government-to-government, cross-municipal training regarding how the cities might be run; school-to-school exchanges of teaching and learning techniques and tools; business-to-business technology exchanges. Additionally, these exchanges lead to personal growth and new relationships. Student exchanges also lead to life-long learning and experiences that influence a person's future.

TCV: What benefits have been derived from existing relationships?

LG: For Union City, most of the benefits have been in learning and understanding our sister cities and their cultures. Our families have hosted students from China and Thailand, providing the young visitors with a unique learning experience and the host families with relationships that will last for years to come. Delegations of Chinese, Thai and Mexican dignitaries and educators have given us the opportunity to learn from different cultures. This enables us to better understand the actions and decisions of citizens and government officials in other countries. In the future, it is hoped that Union City-based business might forge business relationships with companies in our sister cities, such as in China.

TCV: With which Afghan city might there be a sister city relationship?

LG: We're exploring the possibility of a relationship with Asadabad, Afghanistan

TCV: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?

LG: I encourage everyone to get involved. Working with Sister Cities can be great fun and it is even better when one realizes that their efforts are also helping in some small way to promote peace in the world. When you are involved, your life is fuller and results much richer.

Anyone, who can speak Mandarin Chinese and is interested in volunteering with the Union City Sister Cities Committee or making available their language skills, should contact Lee Guio at (408) 888-8413 or at

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