World War II divided the world and when it ended, after years of suffering, violence and sacrifice, it needed healing.
So in 1956, nine years after Adolf Hitler shot himself and the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created Sister Cities International to create bonds between Earth’s citizens.
Sixty years later, 545 U.S. cities have more than 2,000 siblings in 145 countries, spanning every continent except for frozen Antarctica, according to Sister Cities International.
San Antonio has nine of those partnerships across six countries.
Sherry Dowlatshahi is chief of protocol and head of international relations for San Antonio’s International Relations Office. The San Antonio Current caught up with her over the phone while she was walking to see the logo for the city’s tricentennial celebration that was unveiled last Wednesday at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“Eisenhower thought that if people were more open and knowledgeable of people on the other side of the world they would be more tolerant and understanding and that wars would not happen like they happened then [WWII],” she said. “It’s really about promoting peace, cooperation and mutual understanding.”
Back when Eisenhower made that 1956 announcement, San Antonio was already ahead of the game. Its first sister city relationship was established in 1953 with a natural fit: Monterrey, in Nuevo León, Mexico — the first Mexican city to form a sister city pairing.
In its infancy, Dowlatshahi said U.S. cities formed relationships with Mexican and European cities.
“It was a movement that just grew and grew throughout the ’60s and ’70s,” she said. “In the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, there was no Facebook, no social networking. So if you wanted to learn, there was the whole pen pals thing and finding friends in another part of the world was very popular … and a lot of those initiatives were through sister city relationships.”
The goal is to also foster citizen diplomacy, along with the Eisenhower’s vision of a less violent world created through tolerance and understanding.