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March 17, 2010 > Tough economic times for Milpitas sister city family

Tough economic times for Milpitas sister city family

By Steve Wyant

The Milpitas Sister Cities Commission has a heavy workload ahead. In the current economic climate, maintaining ongoing relationships with their current sister cities in Japan, China and the Philippines is challenging as recently planned visits by student delegations have been cancelled due to the economy and H1N1 flu concerns.

Sister City commissioners met on February 25 and reported on the ongoing relationships with sister cities Dagupan, Philippines; Huizhou, China; Tsukuba, Japan; and Friendship City Nam-Gu, Incheon, South Korea (friendship cities are akin to cousins rather than siblings). Updates were also provided on search efforts for a new sister city in Western Europe.

Milpitas' Sister Cities Program was developed in 1996. According to the city's website, the program is designed to "engage the people of the City of Milpitas in cultivating strong... relationships with the people of similar cities of foreign nations to understand one another as individuals, as members of their community, as citizens of their country, and as part of the family of nations."

Student exchanges are a large part of the program. Current Commission Chair Dennis Grilli has been involved in student exchanges since the program's inception. He has accompanied his three youngest children on five student exchanges to Japan and helped cultivate the initial relationship with the city of Kukizaki (the original Sister City before being integrated into Tsukuba in 2002). When students, teachers and parents visit a sister city as part of a delegation, it is hoped there will be a reciprocal visit, with each family acting as host in their home city.

Involvement by commissioners, students, teachers and host families is voluntary, with all costs borne by participants. As such, it has been challenging to recruit volunteers who have both the interest and the means to travel abroad as part of a delegation.

According to Milpitas Public Works Secretary Holly Cuciz, staff liaison to the Commission, Milpitas provides a budget of just $2,600 per city. The funds are only available to pay for administrative costs, supplies, gifts to sister cities and entertainment expenses the City incurs as host to visiting delegations.

Delegations, consisting only of city officials, from Dagupan and Nam-Gu visited Milpitas in 2009. A visit by a student delegation from Huizhou last October was cancelled due to swine flu concerns. It is intended that discussions will resume in October this year to plan their next visit. Milpitas plans to recruit a student delegation to visit Huizhou during spring break in 2011.

An invitation is currently open for a Milpitas delegation to visit Dagupan next month for their Bangus Festival, from April 16 to May 1. The festival is named after their primary agricultural product bangus, or milkfish, and draws an international crowd numbering more than half a million.

Recruiting students for exchanges has been difficult, especially at the high school level. To help, the Commission wishes to fill a non-voting, student commissioner seat from Milpitas high schools to help in the endeavor.

To address the economic challenges, there was a proposal to create a "virtual" exchange with Tsukuba, possibly involving the exchange of photos and creating an exhibit that would travel to each city. Discussions between the two cities will continue to determine the details.

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