Mexican and American flags to mark 40th anniversary

Siskiyou Boulevard will be lined with Mexican and American flags Thursday and Friday, weather permitting.

Courtesy of the Kiwanis Club, the flags are part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the sister city relationship between Ashland and Guanajuato, Mexico. At least 70 delegates from the central Mexico city are visiting Ashland this week.

Kiwanis places American flags along the boulevard and at local businesses during 10 national holidays, but this is the first time Mexican flags will be displayed, flag co-chairman Russ Chadwick said.

"It's just to celebrate them being here and to make them feel welcome," he said.

The flags are part of the community-wide effort by Ashland and its service clubs to welcome the delegates and continue the people-to-people contact that has characterized the sister-city relationship since its inception in 1969.

"The people-to-people relationships are exceedingly important, and they're difficult to quantify," said Dale Gates, who serves as the co-president of the Amigo Club with her husband Bill.

For the 40 years Ashland and Guanajuato have exchanged students, officials and citizens, the Amigo Club has been providing hospitality. The club hosted the first exchange student from Guanajuato in 1969 and has arranged housing for exchanges since.

The club also holds a welcome celebration at the beginning of the school year for university exchange students from Guanajuato, as well as a Thanksgiving dinner and a graduation celebration at the end of the year. The Amigo Club holds an annual fundraiser selling paletas (Mexican popsicles) during the Fourth of July parade, and this year they'll also sell tote bags commemorating the sister-city relationship, Gates said.

For this week, the Amigo Club has organized 40 host families who are providing housing, meals and transportation for their visitors.

This year is "a particularly special one," Gates said. "Our hosting responsibilities for the anniversary have been amped up a bit."

Once this week is over, the Amigo Club will start planning the trip Ashland delegates will make to Guanajuato in late summer.

Several Ashlanders recently returned from Guanajuato — the third Rotary Club trip to help low-income families in rural towns around the city.

Working with Mi Casa DIFerente and the Rotary Club of Guanajuato, Ashland's Rotary Club has raised enough money to build 90 homes, 200 environmentally efficient stoves and six playgrounds.

Rotary raised the money through its "A Taste of Guanajuato" dinner held in July 2007, and the funds were matched by the Guanajuatense government and the larger Rotary organization, said Brian Conrad, co-chair of Ashland Rotary's World Community Service Projects.

Fifty of the homes have already been built, and during their March 27 through April 4 trip Rotarians presented a check to build the next 40 homes. The homes should be completed within six months, and Rotarians will return for a key ceremony, Conrad said.

During the trip, club members also inaugurated the playgrounds and stoves and looked into other projects to consider funding in the future, he said.

Rotary's relationship with Guanajuato works well because club members can visit the people they're helping and see the houses that are built, Conrad said.

"Rather than just spending money and walking away, we decided to adopt communities," he said.

Members of Ashland's Lions Club also visit Mexico as part of their club's work, participating in health clinics held by the greater Lions organization.

Leo van Dijk, a 50-year member of the Ashland Lions, said the club is considering holding a health clinic in Guanajuato and will discuss that option this week with visiting Guanajuatense Lions.

The Lions hope to show their visitors the Sight and Hearing Center in Medford, and the club hosted a reception for the delegates on Sunday, van Dijk said.

The Ashland Elks held a dinner for the delegates and their host families on Monday, and any interested Guanajuatenses are welcome to attend the Elks weekly dinner on Friday, said Christina Dunlap, exalted ruler of the Elks.

Meanwhile, Soroptimist International of Ashland will hold a breakfast for the delegates on Saturday.

"This is a big deal," said van Dijk, whose three daughters have all been to Guanajuato. "They've been such good hosts and always showed us a good time. We hope we can show them the same hospitality."

Reach Kira Rubenthaler at 482-3456 ext. 225 or

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