Tale of Two Toledos: Birth of the 'Sister City' Relationship Tale of Two Toledos: Birth of the 'Sister City' Relationship

Tale of Two Toledos: Birth of the 'Sister City' Relationship

by Rosalie Murphy

April 18, 2013


These were the world's first transcontinental sister cities.

The two cities established their bond in 1931, predating any governing body of sister cities. In 1934, Toledo, Spain invited Ohioans to a week of Corpus Christi celebrations. The Spanish Civil War interrupted plans for Spaniards to return the favor, but they finally arrived in 1962. The first Spain-U.S. phone call connected Toledo to Toledo the same year. Toledo, Spain loaned a host of paintings by El Greco, its most famous artist, to the Toledo Museum of Art in 1982.

Other gestures have been largely symbolic—the cities have named plazas after one another and donated Jeeps to police forces. But the sister cities movement has globalized. President Dwight D. Eisenhower created Sister Cities International in 1956 in an attempt to promote transnational friendship amid the Cold War. A decade later, it became a self-sufficient nonprofit, and after the Berlin Wall fell, sisterly bonds connecting U.S. metropolises to post-Soviet ones exploded. Now, more than 2,000 U.S. cities have sisters in 136 countries.

And "being twinned," or "twinning," has taken the world by storm since the late 1980s. Some cities prefer sisters with the same name, like Mansfield, England. Others vary wildly. Boston has eight sisters; Los Angeles, 24. There was even a "Global Twinning Conference" in Cairo in 2011. (Cairo, by the way, has 28 sisters). 

And Toledo? The Ohio twin has taken to hosting an annual Sister Cities International Festival, where visitors can spend an hour picking up basic phrases and dance steps from other cultures. Toledo's second sister was Qinhuangdao, China, adopted in 1985; its newest, Hyderabad, Pakistan, in 2011. And the program says more relationships are in the works all the time. After all, twinning is part of Toledo's heritage.

Your city may not celebrate its sisters as extravagantly as Toledo does. But do you know where they are? Look it up, then learn how to say "hello" in that language. If you're as lucky as Toledoites (Toledoans?) are, you'll get to greet your sisters someday.

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Learn About Your Town's Sister CitiesFollow along and join the conversation at good.is/citizenship and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.

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Tale of Two Toledos: Birth of the 'Sister City' Relationship