(Pictured above: Various community members advocating Goleta forming a sister city relationship with Union de San Antonio, Mexico.)

In support of a potential new sister city relationship with Union de San Antonio, Mexico, the U.S./Mexico Sister Cities Association and Goleta Valley Community Center brought together community members on Thursday, January 31, to discuss future plans related to the project. Founded in 1770, La Union is a small “pueblo” in the northern region of the Jalisco highlands, not far from the more tourist accommodating towns Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes. Famous for its Mexican “charros,” La Union has maintained its tradition of horsemanship.

Gil Garcia – former president of the U.S./Mexico Sister Cities Association, current treasurer of the Santa Barbara/Puerto Vallarta Sister City Committee, and former Santa Barbara City Councilmember – reflected upon Union de San Antonio, his hometown. He recalled how his family came to Goleta from Union de San Antonio years ago and was dubbed a “pioneer family” by the city of Goleta in 1997. He attributed the relationship between the cities to the labor of past immigrants from La Union on orchards in Old Town Goleta. “We took the seed of a hard work ethic community in San Antonio and planted it here, and now we are enjoying the fruits of that seed in this sister city [relationship],” Garcia said, noting how the history between the cities was indicative of the values behind the concept of a sister city. “In 1957, President Eisenhower developed a sister city movement after the World War II atrocities, seeing that the egos of a selfish, territorial national government won’t work,” Garcia laughed. “So, normally, a sister city is based out of respect, friendship, and brotherhood, resulting in love of each other and culture, and the building of bridges of peace and harmony.”

Venturing for community involvement, Garcia has so far sought the company of representatives from the economic, environmental, and social aspects of the Goleta community. “[We’ve received a] yes from the General Chief of Commerce at the Board Meeting. The Goleta Valley Community Center is our social aspect. Our environmental [partner] will be the Goleta Valley Historical Society. This is the core group. We want all elements of the community involved,” Garcia said.

The year-long campaign to establish this relationship has proved successful thus far, with the onset of visitations to each city by its respective representatives. On January 14, the Mayor of Union de San Antonio, Jose Heron Gutierrez Reynoso, and the president of the Union de San Antonio Sister City Committee, Gerardo Ramirez Marquez, toured the city of Goleta in order to exchange information about the Santa Barbara Committee. The delegation enjoyed refreshments at the Stow House hosted by the Historical Society, attended receptions at the Chamber of Commerce and Community Center, and met with Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett and Mayor Pro-Tem Roger Aceves. In addition to meeting with the trifecta of the new relationship, the representatives visited the Fire Department on Carrillo Street, had lunch at the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, visited Marborg Waste Management and consulted with independent rehabilitation therapist John Loise.

Garcia said meeting with the therapist was one of the initial steps taken to implement what he hopes to be a strong social program which will aid and perpetuate the livelihood of La Union youths who suffer physical ailments. “[The delegates] wanted to know about our rehab programs, so John talked to them for two hours and discussed rehabilitation for trauma victims, those recovering from operations, those with birth defects. We want to go there to help set up this program and teach families how to rehabilitate; they have rehabs in Mexico, but the waiting list is so long,” Garcia said. “There’s one child walking on all fours! Doctors have diagnosed him as being able to walk upright with rehabilitation.” Loise has agreed to travel to La Union in February to help organize rehabilitation services in the area. Expanding on the notion of medical assistance, the local Direct Relief International will help clinics in La Union to keep adequate stock of supplies by supplying relief packages. The combination of medical supplies and proper care will have long lasting effects on the community, organizers hope.

In addition to a rehabilitation program, Garcia and several companions devised three other programs which would develop La Union’s community, after visiting Mexico last October. With the growth of local businesses, Garcia hopes to work with representatives in donating technology and school supplies to classrooms in La Union, which, according to Garcia, held over twenty students, but not a single computer. Sprung from discussion surrounding the “silent crisis” at the recent international conference in Ontario, Canada, Garcia proposed a plan which would give the soon-to-retire a place to live and relax, and give jobs to La Union’s unemployed. “[We’re] looking at San Antonio [to] try to build a new Baby Boomer retirement home, which would increase employment opportunities and decrease the number of immigrants coming here; there are so many talented young men and women, but they don’t have entrepreneurship,” Garcia said. “We could bring immigrants back to work on this retirement home, and reunite them with their families.”

After visiting the Marborg waste management company and speaking with president Mario Borgatello, La Union’s Mayor Reynoso was eager to apply similar waste management tactics to his city. Following the meeting, the Borgatello family made plans to donate a front-loading compactor truck to La Union in hopes of encouraging an expansion in their waste management program. Borgatello said the donation was no hassle, and was glad to contribute, as they were already in the process of removing and altering their trucks. “We’re in the process of [regulating] our fleet to government and federal standards, and minimizing air pollution by updating them to a new style of electric engines,” Borgatello said. “I just couldn’t believe-20,000 people and they don’t have a compactor!”

Garcia said that he hopes the waste management program will develop enough to involve a safer recycling program. “We have families who live by dump sites, picking through the trash with their hands,” said Garcia.

For now, the forming committee looks forward to projects on the horizon and will continue to work with the US/Mexico Sister City Association in its student exchange, which has already been sending young scholars between Puerto Vallarta and cities in the Santa Barbara area for years.


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