The County Voice

The Tale of Sister Cities and Counties

This is the second blog post in a series highlighting California Counties. In the coming months, learn how California Counties are showcasing the power of international relationships to spur local economic development and education.

Many of us have heard of ‘sister cities’ – broad, long-term partnerships between communities in two countries. For many of these partnerships, a cultural exchange is expected, along with visits, opened lines of communication and educational opportunities, and, like the name entails, a relationship between two cities. However, there can also be city/county ‘sisters’ - which are much more rare, but equally as beneficial and rewarding. In California, there are eight ‘sister city/county’ relationships that have built amazing opportunities and longstanding exchanges between residents and communities. 

The following three counties took their sister city partnerships to the next level, strengthening their global connection, inspiring kindness, and evolving what it means to be a ‘sister.’

COVID-19 Resources – Alameda and San Bernardino Counties and Taoyuan, Taiwan

COVID-19 has become more than just a pandemic. It’s become a passage, an epoch, the dark tunnel we want to exit. COVID-19 has highlighted the stigma around vaccines, the systematic relationship between federal, state and county governments, and the silent heroes who step up every day in public service. It’s also shown us how connections and sisterhood can bring us one step closer to that light at the end of the tunnel.

Two California Counties, Alameda and San Bernardino, share the same sister city of Taoyuan, Taiwan. When the COVID-19 pandemic was on the rise and the need for resources was high, the city of Taoyuan reached out to ensure its sister counties were prepared to meet the needs of the pandemic sweeping the globe. In June of 2020, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco delivered 5,000 masks to Alameda County on behalf of the Taoyuan community and San Bernardino County also received much needed resources and PPE from their sister city.  

More recently in January of 2021, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman, who initiated the sister city relationship with Taoyuan, organized a virtual meeting with Taoyuan and Taiwan officials to exchange ideas, resources, and stories that will help in the economic recovery from this devastating pandemic. The dialogue underscored the importance of not only local support and rebuilding, but international reconnection as well.  This exchange will hopefully enable both regions to better respond to and safeguard against similar future situations.

By reconnecting and looking forward, all three communities have demonstrated resilience, investment, and inclusion, all leading to a stronger and more connected sisterhood.

Rumiano’s Kamome Dry Jack Cheese – Del Norte County and Rikuzentakata, Japan

This blog series kicked off with the incredible tale of the Kamome fishing boat that washed up on the shores of Crescent City in Del Norte County from the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011. What many of you may not know is that this unlikely instance has permanently connected Del Norte County with the coastal city of Rikuzentakata and has become a symbol of hope, kindness, and resilience. Ten years following this devasting tsunami, the relationship is still going strong and getting stronger.

What started as a sister-school relationship in 2014 and evolved to a sister city/county relationship in 2019, has since morphed into opportunities in economic development, worldwide advocacy, and even an internationally award-winning cheese.

Baird and Jane Rumiano from Rumiano Cheese, which has multi-generational farms in Del Norte County, announced during their 2019 Sister City Delegation visit to Japan that they would make a special Rumiano “Kamome” dry jack cheese with salt from the Iwate Prefecture in Japan and that all proceeds would be gifted to the student exchange program between their two communities.

A schoolteacher named Nahomi, who teaches at the Takata High School in Rikuzentakata, was inspired by this act of kindness. She vowed to make all of the salt used in the “Kamome” cheese by hand. This process to reduce seawater from the Hirota Bay into salt is traditionally done on a wood-fired stove and it took Nahomi many, many months just to produce 25 lbs. of salt.

This truly collaborative process uses Del Norte County dairy and Hirota Bay salt to create a cheese that is simple, distinctive, and deep, just like this relationship. The first batch of this cheese has already led to an international award and will be released in December 2021. A second batch is already in the works.

This one chapter out of the incredible story between Crescent City/Del Norte County and Rikuzentakata shows that compassion can come from unexpected places and out of tragedy comes hope for a better and more connected future.

Fostering an Exchange – Santa Clara County and Florence, Italy

For many sister cities, the relationship is straightforward after both communities sign off on an agreement. From there, community involvement usually includes a variety of volunteers from nonprofits or governments to jumpstart and continue this diplomatic relationship. In Santa Clara County, they went one step further to formalize and ensure that this relationship endures. 

In 1987, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors created the County of Santa Clara/Province of Florence, Italy Sister County Commission, an official, voted-in membership to ensure that new ideas and ongoing support continue throughout this sisterhood. This Commission is comprised of 25 members, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, with a term of three years. The Commission meets every month and is committed to fostering an environment and exchange of art, commerce, culture, education, and more.

By creating this Commission, staff and communities from both countries have been able to promote, aid, and encourage added participation across sectors and continued investment. This Commission has:

  • Provided annual scholarships toward the study abroad of university students from Santa Clara County accepted to study at accredited universities in Florence, Italy.
  • Bridged cultural heritage with “Florence-Santa Clara: Two Schools of Sculpture” exhibit
  • Co-sponsored a Summer Concert with Violinist Francesca De Pasquale at Santa Clara University
  • Hosted “meet and greet” gatherings between consuls and diplomats
  • Acted as the liaison between European and American experts studying solid waste recycling, and more

Though meetings were halted in March 2020 due to COVID, this relationship has endured for 34 years and will continue to last because of their foresight, dedication and advanced planning. 

These are just a few of the many stories of Sister Cities/Counties in California. If you are interested in learning about other relationships like this, see the table below.


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