Tacoma’s Sister Cities Program Continues to Thrive

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Written by Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Guest Contributor

As one of Washington state’s most progressive, international cities, Tacoma has maintained its commitment to the Sister Cities Program since 1959. Since then, the program has transformed the city in some pretty remarkable ways.

Today, our community enjoys beautiful cultural monuments symbolizing Tacoma’s global relationships and friendly faces from many of Tacoma’s sister cities studying in local high schools, colleges and universities. Home to one of the largest ports on the West coast, Tacoma has sister port and trade relationships that serve to strengthen the city’s economic position.

Several partnerships in particular have dramatically changed the face of Tacoma.

Our newest sister city, Biot, is known as the glass capital of France. Together, we made headlines in the local paper when the initial delegation visited Tacoma to sign the official paperwork. With a relationship based around glassblowing and the celebration of glass art, Tacoma is widely known for its Museum of Glass—which features the world’s largest hot shop—and for being the hometown of world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. Recent delegations from France have included two world famous glass artists who worked as guests at the Museum of Glass during their visit. They also spent time at the innovative Hilltop Artists Program, which is a glass blowing studio for youth in one of Tacoma’s junior high schools. The French artists were so moved by the students, they began discussions of an exchange program with professional glass artists and youth artists.

Fuzhou, China has been Tacoma’s sister city since 1994. This relationship is perhaps most visible to the casual observer when viewing the Fuzhou Ting in the Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park perched along Tacoma’s waterfront. The Fuzhou Ting is a unique art and cultural exchange project that took shape from 2010-2011 with the spirit of mutual respect, cooperation, and community involvement. The Chinese Reconciliation Park was designed to tell the story of the shameful period in Tacoma’s history: the expulsion of Tacoma’s Chinese residents in 1885. It serves as a symbol and a strong statement of Tacoma’s commitment to end racism and hatred by promoting a peaceful, inclusive multicultural community. A joint endeavor of the City of Tacoma and the nonprofit Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, the Chinese Reconciliation Park broke ground in 2005 and construction of the first two of the facility’s four phases has been completed. The Fuzhou Ting, a gathering space that is well loved by the community today as a memorial, educational, and recreational facility, is filled with weddings in the summers, is often the backdrop for photographs, and serves as the site for the annual Chinese Moon Festival every fall.

Gunsan, Korea has been Tacoma’s sister city since 1978; Taichung, Taiwan has been Tacoma’s sister city since 2000; and Kitakyushu, Japan has been Tacoma’s sister city since 1959. All have students who come to live in Tacoma and study at one of our local community colleges each year. These students live with host families for six months at a time and become an integral part of Tacoma’s social fabric. In the past four years alone, over 250 students have come to Tacoma.

One of the cornerstones of Point Defiance Park, a 702-acre park in the middle of Tacoma, is a pagoda that was first built in 1914. The pagoda is the focal point of Point Defiance Park’s Japanese Garden, which features pools, a waterfall, a footbridge, sakura cherry trees, and an authentic Shinto shrine and Tori gate presented by Kitakyushu. The historic site today serves as a venue for garden shows, classes and community celebrations, weddings, family gatherings and corporate events. The Japanese Garden is currently being redesigned in Kitakyushu, with the goal of bringing an even more authentic garden to Tacoma.

As Tacoma works to cultivate its global relationships, our Sister Cities program will continue to play a key role. In addition to educational, cultural, and tourism exchanges, we view our sister city relationships as opportunities to promote trade and economic investment.

Photo: Tom Collins (cc).