Ashland, Guanajuato celebrate 40-year connection

Guanajuato, MEXICO — Leading officials of Guanajuato, Ashland's sister city, this week rolled out the red carpet for a delegation of Ashlanders led by Mayor John Stromberg as part of a weeklong celebration of 40 years of people-to-people ties between the two cities.

Representatives of the city, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Southern Oregon University, Ashland Rotary and Lions clubs, the sister-city Amigo Club, Ashland Fire & Rescue, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and others arrived to celebrate a unique relationship that began in 1969 and has flourished.

The sister-city connection has featured thousands of programs, connections and exchanges between Southern Oregon University and the University of Guanajuato, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Guanajuato's world-famous International Cervantes Festival, police and fire departments, the city administrations of both municipalities, high schools, service clubs and families. Seventy-nine marriages have resulted from the relationship between the two cities.

Mary Cullinan, president of SOU, called the connection "a collaboration that goes beyond any sister-city relationship in the world."

Eduardo Romero Hicks, the mayor of Guanajuato, said the two cities, by creating overlapping layers of relationships over 40 years, "have united their destinies forever."

"What we have been doing these 40 years has been visionary," Stromberg told a crowd at the University of Guanajuato on Monday, after receiving the keys to the city of Guanajuato along with the founder and virtual godmother of the sister-city relationship, Chela Tapp, a retired Spanish professor at SOU.

Tapp, known as Senora Chela, said, "The most important thing is the family relationships that we've maintained for 40 years." That includes her own.

In the mid-1960s, Tapp said, she moved to Ashland and enrolled her son at Lincoln Elementary. There, she said, her son was assaulted on the first day of school by Ashland kids yelling racial epithets at the new Mexican boy in school. On the second day of school, it happened again. School officials at the time did little to alleviate her worries, she said.

"I thought, 'Ashland needs a good dose of Guanajuato,'" Tapp said. That's when she began a one-person campaign to educate Ashlanders about Guanajuato and Mexico.

Ashland has gotten much more than a dose of Mexico since then, thanks mostly to Tapp's tireless efforts.

Most Ashlanders see only the Guanajuato entrants in the annual Fourth of July parade, a "queen" of Guanajuato and her entourage, who travel to Ashland to help the city celebrate. What they seldom see is the thousands of hours of work and thousands of dollars spent by Tapp and others to make the city relationship thrive.

Those who were around at the beginning are thrilled at what it has become.

"It opens up the world to future generations," said Leo Van Dijk, who has supported the program and hosted many visitors from Mexico since 1969. "They realize it is one world, and we no longer live in an isolated country."

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