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Aspen focuses south for another sister city

Allyn Harvey

The city of Aspen may soon have a new sibling of sorts.

The city’s Sister Cities program is putting out feelers in Latin America, hoping to add a sixth city to Aspen’s list of sisters. Aspen currently has sister cities in Europe and Asia, but none in Latin America.

“I think it’s important that we have a city in Latin America to help break down some of the cultural barriers,” said Don Sheeley, president of the Sister Cities program.

The program encourages cultural, business and educational exchanges between Aspen and the sister cities, all of which are resorts of similar stature in their home countries.

Sheeley met with the Aspen City Council at yesterday’s noon work session to request $6,000 to cover the cost of adding one of two South American resorts – Bariloche, Argentina, and Coahique, Chile – to the program. Like Aspen, both are ski areas that also draw a large number of summer tourists.

To underscore the need for a sister city from a Spanish-speaking country, Sheeley shared an experience he had recently as a soccer coach, when one day he and the girls he coaches showed up at a field and found it being used by Latino men.

Once they understood that Sheeley and his team had reserved the field, the men retired to a nearby hill to cool off, watch the practice and wait until they could play again. But Sheeley’s young charges didn’t want to practice with a dozen or so Latinos looking on. “They said they weren’t used to it, that the men looked `scary,'” Sheeley recalled.

The coach made them practice anyway, and after a half-hour or so he invited the guys, who he learned were from El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, to join in a scrimmage. It didn’t take long for the girls to realize that the Salvadorans were both friendly and very skilled at soccer.

“They came back three times to show the girls how to pass the ball more effectively,” Sheeley said.

Then Sheeley took the council from the anecdotal to the factual. He pointed out that about 30 percent of the valley’s population is Hispanic, about two-thirds of high school students study Spanish and about 12 percent of Aspen’s tourists come from Latin American countries.

“It’s very important to us that we have a sister city from Latin America, especially with all the Hispanics who live here,” Sheeley said.

Sheeley told the council the $6,000 was needed to help cover airfare and lodging for Aspenites who visit Bariloche and Coahique, and to help defer the incidental costs that come with playing host to those cities’ representatives. A delegation from Bariloche is planning to visit Aspen for four days beginning Sunday.

Members of the Sister Cities program pay half the cost of their airfare when visiting potential sister cities.

Sheeley said the program gets several calls a week from cities around the world asking Aspen to become their sister city, though most don’t have enough in common to qualify. Sheeley said it takes two years or so to establish official ties with a new city.

The council members agreed to deal with the request right away, putting the item on last night’s consent agenda of their regular public meeting and voting unanimously to give the Sister Cities program $3,000 by Nov. 15 and $3,000 next year.

The program operates on a $12,000 annual budget, Sheeley said.


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