SIBLING LOVE: A street sign in front of City Hall celebrates the sister city status of Fujinomiya, Japan. (Daniel Archuleta
SIBLING LOVE: A street sign in front of City Hall celebrates the sister city status of Fujinomiya, Japan. (Daniel Archuleta
SIBLING LOVE: A street sign in front of City Hall celebrates the sister city status of Fujinomiya, Japan. (Daniel Archuleta

DOWNTOWN — Santa Monica is opening its arms to welcome new members to its family.

Earlier this month, city officials and community members gathered at the Soka Gokkai International Youth Center to celebrate Santa Monica’s established partnerships with Mazatlan, Mexico; Hamm, Germany; Fujinomiya, Japan; and Sant’Elia and Casssino, Italy.

The Santa Monica Sister Cities Association invited the cities of Bodrum, Turkey and Essaouira, Morocco to join in the celebration and to invite them to the family.

Tolga Arslan, a vice consul from Turkey who attended the event, said Bodrum is ready to join.

“The procedure in Turkey is almost complete, it is a matter of time [before] Bodrum’s mayor sends an official letter informing that sister city agreement is accepted in Turkey,” he said.

Arslan also shared the contents of a letter that Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor wrote to Bodrum’s mayor, Mehmet Kocadon.

“Santa Monica and Bodrum share many similarities: their coastal locations, diverse communities, active lifestyles, and artful and innovative atmospheres that inspire curiosity in the form of visitors from around the world,” O’Connor wrote.

She’s confident that this proposed relationship will provide yet another platform for long-lasting friendships and mutually beneficial exchange programs.

“Although the proposed partnership begins on a formal basis, we see the strength and vitality of this long-term association resting wholly in the hands of citizen volunteers in both cities,” O’Connor wrote.

At the event, Youssef Iferd represented Essaouira by performing music using an instrument called a gimbry, resembling a rectangular guitar. Before his performance, Iferd commented that it was emotional and exciting to be in Santa Monica.

“I believe that Essaouira has a lot to share in different areas,” Iferd said. “We can exchange the experiences we have accomplished.”

Ifred said that Essaouira boasts successful artistic and musical events and performances and the city represents the artistic side of Moroccans.

Ifred added that Essaouira is one of the top places in northern Africa for water and wind sports, something Santa Monica also prides itself on.

“Essaouira and Bodrum are non-western cultures that we have to learn from,” said Monika White, the president of the Santa Monica Sister Cities Association. “We also have a lot of similarities since both cities are beach cities.”

The mission of the Sister Cities Association stems from the founder of Sister Cities International, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s dream of “citizen diplomats” establishing peace with “people-to-people contacts between countries.”

According to the Sister Cities International website, the foundation’s main focus is on areas with significant opportunities for cultural and educational exchanges, economic partnerships, and humanitarian assistance.

White said that cities need to be confident that their own groups are willing to meet and host each other to make the partnerships work.

“You want people who are interested in each other and promote their own projects,” she said. “A great way to learn about people is to have them stay at each others’ homes.”

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