Going Gold, Sister City Style – Sandra Coopersmith

Now standing at the crossroads...it's a sign of the times.
Kaizuka Japan’s Friendship Garden @ the Julian Dixon Culver City Library (photo courtesy of CCSCC)

It’s not every day you get to celebrate a golden anniversary. Whether or not it chooses to emulate the exuberant and world famous Gangnam style, the Culver City Sister City Committee (“CCSCC”), which has created its own global presence, has every reason to dance for joy.

For 50 years CCSCC has been engaged in encouraging international and intercultural harmony and friendship. In honor of this landmark anniversary, several events are planned for Saturday, Jan. 12, a day sure to be fun, informative and entertaining.

Festivities will kick off with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on the sister city signpost at Culver and Duquesne at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. The public is invited. Attending will be an array of officials, from consul generals to Culver City city council members.

The signpost itself is the result of a CCSCC visit to Lethbridge, a sister city in Alberta, Canada. “We loved their signpost and felt we needed to gift our city with one,” said Marla Wolkowitz, CCSCC’s president.

Signpost @ Culver and Duquesne

“Then, weather permitting, to open our free Open House Saturday afternoon there will be a taiko performance (Japanese drumming) in front of the Veterans Memorial Building at 1:00 p.m.,” she continued.

The afternoon of free family fun that follows and concludes at 3 p.m. will, appropriately enough, take place in the Veterans Memorial Building in the four rooms named for the sister cities of Uruapan (Mexico), Kaizuka (Japan), Iksan (South Korea) and Lethbridge (Canada).

An atmosphere of welcome (also known as bienvenidos, youkoso and hwangyong-hamnida) will surround those attending as they pick up their “passports” at the information table, take them to each of the rooms to get them stamped and then return them to the information table for a chance to win prizes.

Members of the Friends of the Library will offer story time and crafts of the country represented in each room, as follows: Lethbridge, Canada – “The Legend of the Loon” by Kathy-jo Wargin and “The Loon’s Necklace” retold by William Toye, with the craft being a loon collage; Uruapan, Mexico – “Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin” by Duncan Tonatiuh, with the craft being paper plate maracas; Kaizuka, Japan – “Peach Boy and other Tales,” with the craft being origami; and “Iksan, Korea – New Clothes for New Year’s Day” by Hyun-Joo Bae, with the craft being a paper fan.

Continuing the entertainment that commenced with the taiko drummers from El Marino Language School who opened the afternoon festivities, students from many of our elementary schools will be participating in the Rotunda Room, where everyone will also have the opportunity to enjoy the music of Canada performed by Ronnie Jayne and dances from Mexico performed by Grupo Folklorico Tzintzuni.

The Rotunda Room will also be the locale of a silent auction that includes specific country-themed baskets with items from Culver City and each sister city, as well as specialty items (SONY tablet, one-night stay at the Culver Hotel in a Junior Suite with parking and breakfast included and much more). The auction will continue at the evening’s dinner and those attending only the afternoon program will be able to indicate a maximum bid which will be offered by proxy. Winner need not be present.

The day will culminate with a much anticipated sold-out dinner at the Courtyard by Marriott. “Reservations went very fast,” said Wolkowitz, “and an extra table had to be added.” The sure-to-be memorable evening will feature a multi-media presentation, live music and a cultural program that includes a nihon buyo performance (Japanese classical dance), the Korean Classical Music and Dance Company and Grupo Folklorico Tzintzuni.

Saturday promises to be a wonderful and varied day celebrating an organization with roots can be traced back to1956, which is when the sister city concept started. Several years had passed since the end of World War II and President Eisenhower occupied the White House. Sister cities were being established worldwide to help rebuild international relationships and create citizen diplomats. This led to the founding by President Eisenhower of Sister Cities International, an organization dedicated to promoting peace through mutual respect, cooperation and understanding – one individual, one community at a time.

On December 10, 1962, in a move to amplify the cultural betterment of the city and its people, the Culver City city council established CCSCC. Its first meeting was held on January 10, 1963 in the Veterans Memorial Building, and what a vibrant role it has performed and continues to play in developing and maintaining long-term community-based programs that foster international and intercultural understanding through cultural, educational and commercial exchanges of people, ideas and materials both within and between the Culver City community and its sister cities.

Culver City has four currently active sister city relationships. They were created with Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico on February 24, 1964; Kaizuka, Osaka, Japan on April 29, 1965; Iksan City, Chollabuk-do, South Korea on September 12, 1983; and Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada on November 6, 1989. The sister city relationship established with Yanji City, Jilin, China on October 11, 1994 terminated in1998.

Lethbridge, located on the Oldman River near the Rocky Mountains in Southern Alberta, has a history encompassing Blackfoot Indians, explorers, trappers, farmers, Mounties, mining and immigration from Europe and Asia and contains the longest and highest trussed bridge in the world, fine art galleries, historic sites and the University of Lethbridge.

Kaizuka, a commercial port and industrial center near the world’s larges floating airport, balances farming of special vegetables with textile and wire cable manufacturing and is currently known for its volleyball teams, annual marathons, bonsai junipers, historic wooden kokeshi dolls and architectural achievements.

Iksan City, which dates back to 500 A.D., is today a modern industrial city and not only home to numerous factories producing textiles, gems, jewelry, metal, electrical products and machinery but also to many agricultural, fishing, construction and transportation industries. Rice is the prevalent crop produced by the farms that abound in the surrounding countryside.

Uruapan, founded in 1533 by the same order of Franciscans that later founded the California missions, remains semitropical although surrounded by pines. Its name, loosely translated, means “where the flowers grow.” It is the cultural and spiritual center of the Tarascan Indians and known for its active volcano, avocados, lacquer-work, pottery, woodwork, embroidery and waterfall-filled national park.

And, of course, our own Culver City takes pride in its excellent schools and newly revitalized downtown with upscale restaurants, theaters and numerous art galleries throughout the east Washington corridor. Known as “the Heart of Screenland,” Culver City has housed many studios over the years including MGM Studios and currently Sony Pictures Entertainment and Culver Studios. Movies such as “Gone with the Wind,” “King Kong” and the famous “Wizard of Oz” were filmed here. The historic Culver Hotel, a city landmark, was home to the Munchkins during filming.

On the subject of history, after the women’s volleyball team from Kaizuka won Olympic gold in 1964 they were taken on a tour of the U.S.A. Upon arrival in Culver City they received the royal treatment, so impressing Kaizuka that Culver City was promptly invited to become its sister city, making it the first time in the history of International Sister Cities that a foreign city asked an American city to so affiliate with them..

And that lovely Meditation Garden gracing the front of the Culver City Julian Dixon Library? It was a gift from Kaizuka, brought over in pieces from Japan and installed in 1974, a continuing reminder of this close and ongoing sister city relationship.

Along with enjoyment, membership in CCSCC brings a hefty measure of work to accomplish its goals. Its annual local activities are abundant, such as monthly board of directors meetings; presenting an information booth at Fiesta La Ballona; quarterly member dinners and meetings that include a year-end holiday dinner; an annual fundraiser; the picnic in the park; high school student scholarship awards; the Sister Cities International Youth Art Competition as well as its Young Authors Competition; orphanage support in Mexico; and student educational exchanges.

Adding to this already full plate are activities that include hosting officials and sister city families; attending the L.A. Marathon to support the Kaizuka guest runners; participating in guided tours and meals with visiting officials, dignitaries and sister city families; attending various conferences; and membership in related organizations as well as the Culver City Chamber of Commerce. 2012 also saw CCSCC hosting the Trilateral North America Youth Ambassador Program and the 49th Annual U.S/Mexico Sister Cities Association International Conference.

Last year held many memorable events and visits. As an example Wolkowitz cited a noteworthy visit in October from Kaizuka’s Mayor Tatsuo Fujihara and his associate, Junji Matsutani, Director of the Public Relations Division.

“The mayor came to Culver City expressly to thank the CCSCC and the City of Culver City for our immediate financial support from the community and follow-up support from the Kaiser Foundation grant,” she explained, adding that he “brought along a vivid PowerPoint presentation and participated on an emergency preparedness panel that was designed to elicit an exchange of ideas in anticipation of future disasters. I feel proud to acknowledge the preparatory work of Kaizuka Chairman Kathleen McCann and Co-Chairman Carleen Velez. Our Culver City Chamber of Commerce added to the visit with a brief but important discussion as well.”

Many events are on the horizon for 2013, including the upcoming 20th Annual Osaka/Kaizuka Senshu International Marathon on February 17 with two runners, male and female, selected by a panel comprised of former runners from this marathon and CCSCC board representatives.

Wolkowitz is also looking forward to the Sister Cities International Art Competition, a themed competition in which “Culver City High School students participate annually and our students have made the cut up to the final rounds in past years.” She added that “our Culver City kids will be going to Kaizuka this summer. It’s open to Middle School-age students and applications will be out soon.”

She reflected that “we’ve learned many things from our sister cities. We take away their history and perspective and it makes us realize how very young and unformed we are as a country. I’ve not had the personal experience of visiting all of our sister cities but listen intently to the others, including our student travelers, that describe their brief visits.

“I don’t speak a word of Korean or Japanese but was excited to find that I still managed to be able to visit and find a way to communicate with our visitors from Kaizuka and Iksan. I do remember some of my high school Spanish and am so appreciative of the people I’ve met from Uruapan and their patience as I tried so hard to use my Spanish – and they don’t laugh at my mistakes.

“I’ve yet to find a downside to what we attempt to do as an organization that truly believes in citizen diplomacy. If only we ourselves could model the message our lives would be enriched and certainly more peaceful”.

A respectful understanding of the nature and value of diversity is fundamental to creating lasting bonds between individuals and countries. This will be explored in future articles relating the experiences of those who visited the sister cities, assuming these very dedicated and busy people can be persuaded to slow down and sit still long enough to be interviewed. Let it never be said that Culver City folks do not get around.

The Actors' Gang

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