Christopher Zimmerman: SISTER CITIES AS DIVERSE AS OUR COMMUNITY
WHEN: 13 August 2013
WHERE: Arlington County Board Office of Christopher Zimmerman
INTERVIEWER: Carl Lankowski
HOW: transcribed from recorder
TRANSCRIBER: Carl Lankowski
Q: Tell us where and when you were born and about your origins.
CZ: I am 54 years old, born in 1959 in New York City and grew up partly in the City. The second half of my kidhood was in Connecticut. I went from city to country.
Q: In which of the boroughs of New York did you live?
CZ: I was born in the Manhattan Women’s Infirmary and I think my parents were living in Greenwich Village at the time. But my earliest memories are of Morris Avenue in the Bronx. My father had grown up in the Bronx. My mother came from Teaneck, New Jersey. We then moved to Washington Heights on West 172nd Street. It was technically Manhattan, just south of the George Washington Bridge, but culturally more like the Bronx. I went to PS 173 on Ft. Washington Avenue.
Q: What did your dad do?
CZ: He was a school teacher at George Washington High School (and later at John F. Kennedy HS). He taught Biology.
Q: How did you move to Connecticut?
CZ: My folks built a house on Lake Candlewood, in Danbury. That’s where I graduated from high school.
Q: You moved when your father retired?
CZ: No. He commuted to Manhattan.
Q: A big commute!
CZ: It was. Not something he recommended subsequently. He advised against it when as a young adult I thought about nice houses in the country. In that way he contributed to my wise decision to stay in Arlington. But there were certain advantages to living on a lake in the country on the side of a mountain. Eventually I left to go to college and came down here and have been here ever since.
Q: Where did you go to college?
CZ: American University, then to graduate school at the University of Maryland. I met my wife, Mary Beth, at American University, pretty much in our first semester there. We got married after our junior year.
Q: When was that?
CZ: We started AU in the fall of 1977. We were married in 1980 and graduated in 1981.
Q: Your major?
Q: Mary Beth, too?
CZ: Yes. She is an economist, too.
Q: Did you also study economics in graduate school?
CZ: Yes, it was economics. I worked mostly on state and local government fiscal policy before coming to the Arlington County Board.
Q: It sounds like you got your graduate degree in the mid-1980s.
CZ: It was 1983.
Q: Right out of graduate school where did you go?
CZ: I was an aide to a legislator, the late Warren Stambaugh, representing the 49th district from Arlington, Virginia House of Delegates, best known as the patron of the Virginians with Disabilities Act, which predated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by five years. He also championed mental health and the rights of those with mental illness. He was also known as a champion of Metro and devised much of the funding mechanisms for it. The experience with Warren pulled me out of the academic world toward which I had been heading.
After I worked for Warren, I went to work for the National Conference of State Legislatures. I spent more than a decade, almost a dozen years there. Among various roles, I was chief economist, I was the budget and tax person and ran research programs. Having worked in one legislature, I was interested in knowing how things worked in other ones. Then the NCSL job came along, a perfect match for me, and I kind of got to see all 50 state legislatures.
During the same period I got involved in civic things in Arlington. I was involved in my local civic association, I served as a member of the Park and Recreation Commission, I served as chair of the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee, as a member of the Planning Commission, and several other things like that.
When Arlington County Board member Mary Whipple went to the Virginia Senate in 1996, I ran in a special election that was held on January 30th of that year. I was sworn in two days later and took my seat two days after that.
Q: When did you first move to Arlington?
CZ: I first moved here when I was in college. It was after a couple of years in the dorms. Ironically, I came for the “affordable housing”. Compared to most places in Northwest DC, it was an inexpensive place to live in the late 1970s. It was just the place to be if you were a student with no money. I was working as a projectionist in a movie theater to pay my way through school. Arlington at that time had fairly cheap rental housing. My room-mate and I moved into a little apartment in Lyon Park that would now be walking distance to the Clarendon Metro station. The place cost $215 per month, utilities included, and we split that. Of course at that time there was no Metro station yet, so it was more complicated getting around. There was no Clarendon as we know it today, but it was a relatively convenient place from which I could ride my motorcycle or take the bus to campus when I couldn’t ride.
I don’t think I had any notion that I would live here permanently, but once I was here, little by little the place gets into you. It ended up being an exciting place to be. It wound up being our home. We moved to south Arlington when we got married to an apartment not far from where we have lived the last 33 years, just off Columbia Pike. We moved into a house from around the corner, eventually bought it, then moved to the house we are in now in Douglas Park.
Q: I had rented an apartment in Arlington as an undergraduate at Georgetown University at Lee Gardens in 1971-72, but it has long since changed its name.
CZ: It is now called Woodbury Park and is operated by AHC; it became one of the first affordable housing projects in Arlington in the 1980s.
Q: Research for this interview suggests that you were coming into contact with the ASCA founding generation in the late 1980s, early 1990s. From what I gather, the idea for ASCA emerged from a broader planning initiative.
CZ: There had been a big effort, a commission on the future of Arlington or some such in the 1980s. It was headed by former County Board member and Congressman Joe Fisher. It looked at everything and came out with a whole series of recommendations that shaped a lot of what we have done over the years—including, for example, the Commission on the Arts and an arts program, a radical idea at that time. Then there was the re-do of a number of other policies, such as the original urban forest policy, the idea of an open space master plan. All kinds of things came out of this and were implemented subsequently in different ways. It also brought together a whole lot of people at the time. Some were long-established folks; some were younger. The effort generated a lot of energy for a number of years. And I was getting active around that time. I was personally mostly involved in the first wave after that, especially in developing the open space master plan.
Q: Is there a date attached to that?
CZ: I am guessing it was 1991 or 1992. I can remember sitting around the table in the old county building with County Board member Ellen Bozman and the chair of the Park and Rec Commission—I was vice-chair at the time—with others to hammer out the language of the policy from which we had the original master plan.
I think that the Sister City idea may have come out of that. I know that among the leadership of the planning effort was John McCracken, who had his fingers in everything, and was also the source of many things. McCracken is the most important guy that nobody knows about in Arlington’s history. There was so much that he was instrumental in making happen. He mostly served quietly and behind the scenes. Everything from economic development to our site plan process, to Arlington Soccer Association, to university relationships with Marymount and George Mason—there were so many things in which he was involved. He also encouraged me to run for the County Board. That goes for Barbara Favola, too, whom he also supported. I believe Jack Melnick was also involved early in Sister City ruminations.
As for me, I didn’t get involved in Sister City at all until right after I was elected to the Arlington County Board. By then the Aachen relationship had been launched. The organizers were working on a second city and had come up with Coyoacán. I was elected in January 1996, took office, and immediately there was a trip to go to Coyoacán. Jim Hunter was chairman of the County Board and very much a supporter of the sister city concept. And he was leading the delegation to do the first visit for the first signings in Mexico City. I was interested in going. My wife couldn’t go, so I brought our son, who was 12 at the time.
The delegation was a great group of people, many of those initially involved in the sister city effort. I think Jack and Margie Melnick were with the delegation. Connie and Abad Ramirez; Patty and Jim Hunter; Elizabeth Weihe and Alice Suffit; Wade and Ann Gregory; Mary Hynes, who was on the school board and her husband, Patrick; Paul Ferguson and Karen Keyes. On the staff side we had Jorge Gonzalez and his wife Leslie (Jorge has been in Miami for many years now, but we became friends through the Coyoacán experience. He ran Miami Beach for 10 years.) And of course the person who organized it all, the most important staff person, was Roberto Moranchel. Roberto was an architect—he was from Mexico, trained in Mexico and came here, worked for a time in the Parks department and then moved to planning and became the unofficial county architect. A great resource and internal advocate, he was the voice for raising architectural standards. I ended up working a lot with him on various things over the years. He had a lot to do with putting together the Coyoacán relationship. He was Mexican; he had contacts. Of course he had the language, so he ended up doing a lot of interpreting when the delegation had no interpreters. We had a huge delegation and Roberto did a lot to facilitate the whole thing. Beyond that, both he and I were soccer fans. I followed the Mexican league. We liked different teams, but we had a lot of fun. Roberto died about three years ago. His passing left a real hole here. He was very important in the original Coyoacán relationship. He was the chairman of the committee for a while. It was tough then, because things fell apart because of political changes down there. They weren’t able to sustain their initial efforts so well. It was getting restarted just about the time that Roberto passed away.
Q: So your work with ASCA actually began with Coyoacán.
CZ: I was particularly interested in that effort for a number of reasons. I had been involved in Mexico through work. Although my job at NCSL was basically domestic, they had an international program and I got pulled into that. It was the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, so there were programs on eastern Europe; NCSL got involved in some of those—I wound up going to Estonia. It also occasioned my first visit to Germany. You couldn’t go straight to Estonia, so I got my first opportunity to see Germany—not only couldn’t you go straight to Estonia, but you could wait a long time for an airplane. So, rather than spend a day in the Frankfurt airport, I went to my friend Jean Crawford, who has always been my travel advisor. I asked her what I should do. She instantly responded: “you rent a car; you drive down the Neckar Valley to Heidelberg. So I and the person with whom I was travelling rented a car, drove down the Neckar Valley to Heidelberg, walked around the town and ate Spargel all day, because it was June and that’s what they had at that time of year. Spargel soup, Spargel salad, it’s asparagus season. That was a good time. I started remembering my German from a class I had taken.
Q: Where and when did you get your German?
CZ: I didn’t travel much; I didn’t even have a passport until I was in my 30s. I had wanted to do something abroad in college, but I couldn’t really afford it. I was working my way through. I got married early and all that. We always talked about it; we just never got around to doing it. It was really work that got my wife, Mary and I our first chances to travel. For a number of years we were both travelling abroad, but separately. Someone always had to stay home to take care of the kids. It has only been in recent years that we have been able to travel together. I was always interested in travel; I was interested in Germany when I was a kid. Toward the end of college we signed up for a class together. I had a lot of fun with it, but then I really had to focus on Math, a different language altogether, since I was going on to graduate school in Economics — differential calculus and matrix Algebra and the like.
Q: Do you remember who your German teacher was at AU?
CZ: It wasn’t at AU; it was at the US Department of Agriculture continuing education program. It was a gentleman named Walter Pocock; he was really a good teacher. But I couldn’t do anything with it. A decade later I find myself in Germany, and I remember things — “Oh, that means this and that means this…” Then we proceeded to Estonia to do our work. Estonian is a language with 16 cases…not an Indo European language, fascinating, it makes German look easy. That experience convinced me that I really wanted to learn languages.
When I came back and was involved in coaching a kids’ soccer team, half the kids are Hispanic and the parents don’t necessarily speak English. You need to be able to give directions to the kids games. So I realized that I really needed to know Spanish. I signed up for a night course. Then I got work that made that valuable. I went to Paraguay on a USAID contract. This was with the same organization. Things were happening: the Stroessner dictatorship had just ended. They needed help with things like executive-legislative relations and divided power, which we knew a lot about, so I and a colleague spent a week working with them. They also sent delegations to us. I had to speak in Spanish; that was really scary. But at least here I could be immersed in Spanish. It was the first second language I succeeded in learning, later in life. You could hear it in the grocery store; you could turn on television and hear it — I was already watching soccer on Univision. Not surprisingly, the first things I learned were soccer terms. For the Paraguay job I learned all the necessary governmental terms.
Then we had two legislative exchanges. One was with Germany—Partnerschaft der Parlamente. I did one of those; I actually took a delegation of state legislators across to Germany. I worked on my German for that. Not that you really needed it, though it was partly in the eastern part of the country that had been under Communist rule and fewer of them were conversant in English. It wasn’t essential; we had a guide. But it is always so much more meaningful when you can talk directly to someone.
Then there was an exchange of legislators with Mexico and I went down there and a group from there came here. (In fact, it was after leading the delegation of legislators on the Mexican visit that I made my second visit to Coyoacán. I added on a few days for an excursion to Mexico City, and visited some of the folks that I’d met on the first Sister City trip about a year before.) I was meeting with more and more international groups. That phase coincided with the first years of Arlington’s sister city program. There was a young Aachen program and a brand new Coyoacán program. With an interest in the Spanish language and Latin America, it was only natural to be interested in the Coyoacán effort. Mexico is so obviously important in that context—one of the biggest countries in the world, the biggest in the hemisphere outside of the United States and Brazil. And it was a particularly eventful time in Mexico with its own changes in government from decades of PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party] control to a more open competitive political environment.
Q: Tell us how the Coyoacán relationship developed from 1996 to ca. 2001, when a new initiative came with Reims?
CZ: There were a few different trips, starting with the inaugural one in 1996. There was a visit from them to us in Arlington and then a couple more down there. I can remember a particularly great trip organized by Roberto. He really wanted me to go. I mentioned our common interest in soccer. In the Mexican league, I like the team Cruz Azul. Roberto arranged the schedule so that we could go to a game of Cruz Azul’s. It was October, which was a good time to travel unless you are an elected official. Alas, I just could not go. (There was a long stretch where I didn’t go on any trips with sister cities. After Coyoacán, it was several years before I re-engaged. I was just too busy, too much going on. My schedule was crazed—three kids who were kids at the time; a lot was going on with the County Board then—special elections—Charles Monroe died suddenly in 2003; etc. ; I didn’t feel I could take time out to travel.) In his last trip, Roberto brought me back a Mexican national team jersey.
At any rate, the city borough heads, the delegados, were appointed in the past. They only started electing these more recently. The position turns over every three years. The churn caused by this system made it hard for us to sustain a relationship with Coyoacán. They vary a lot in who they are and in the quality and character. They bring an entirely new administration every election, even it is the same party—everyone is swept out after an election. So, they’re starting from scratch every time, on everything. Sister City isn’t necessary the priority of a new administration, and they didn’t have the citizen-based organizational support to carry it through. As a result, the relationship just kind of withered away.
(That’s why it was so exciting when a new Delegado elected in 2009, Raul Flores, took the initiative on his end to get things going again. Along with a new group of volunteers here, they have revived the relationship over the last couple of years. Raul came here in 2011 – as it happens, I was Chairman that year – and we signed the renewal agreement. Raul left office last year; I understand he is now working to establish a civic organization to carry on the Sister City effort.)
So, that’s all we had going — a not wholly successful Coyoacán relationship and Aachen, which was doing great. The Salvadoran community kept pressing and doing their own work. You had groups like the Salvadoran American Association of Virginia (ASAV), headed by a fellow by the name of Walter Tejada, and Glenda Alvarez, a county parks employee at the time. One day, they brought in a guy to meet me who was the newly-elected mayor of San Miguel, the place where a large number of Salvadorans in Arlington are from. He made very clear that he wanted to pursue a sister city relationship.
That took some years. About the same time, Harry Amos had walked into my office with the idea for a new sister city relationship with Reims in France’s Champagne region. I must admit, at first I did not take this idea very seriously. It is so hard to do these things — taking our experience with Coyoacán as a point of departure — how are you going to do this in a place where we don’t have any connections? It takes so much volunteer work. Do we need another one? Do we need this one? Shouldn’t we do something with El Salvador or Bolivia? Well, of course, as you know, they did have the energy and had a plan that would work well, building on the fact that Reims and Aachen already were linked in a sister city relationship. Also, there was enough of a community of interest in things French in Arlington, French teachers and students. And, around the same time, San Miguel really got moving. So, I had some involvement with that one through my friendship with Walter Tejada before he was elected to the Arlington County Board. Also, I just knew many people in the Salvadoran community here through my kids’ soccer teams and in other ways. In 2001 my wife and I took a vacation trip to El Salvador just on our own, prior to the Arlington-San Miguel relationship. I had met Will Salgado, and I talked to Walter and Glenda before I left. Needless to say, much happens when your arrival is preceded by a timely word of introduction. We were made very welcome and got a lot of guided tours and met a lot of people. From then it was still five years before we had an official sister city relationship with San Miguel.
Coincidentally, I was ACB chairman in 2006. Walter had just led a group down to San Miguel (having been elected to the ACB in 2003) to sign the initial papers. They wanted a formal visit from us and they wanted us to come during Carneval. I had always hesitated: it’s Thanksgiving time and hard to get away. But I was chair in 2006 right after the papers were signed and I then agreed to go. So I went with the first formal, official delegation, for Carneval. Will made a big show of having a Thanksgiving dinner for us. The turkey came out and we had to carve it. They served it with rice. They didn’t know about cranberry sauce and things like that.
But it was wonderful and we had a great time. We brought our daughters and they loved it, especially riding on the float in the parade, like princesses, you know. It was just dumb luck that I happened to be chair that year.
Q: Let’s address a different sort of question. How does the sister city experience percolate in the county administration and in the legislature?
CZ: A lot of ways. Once we had the Reims relationship, too, we would start getting interns — exchanges where people were working in the county for a period of time. We had quite a bit of that, so you would see people coming from other places, getting some experience here, and running into them and learning from them.
Q: What sorts of interns were they?
CZ: I believe some of them were placed in economic development. I think they were mostly college-aged.
Q: Were there any mid-career people?
CZ: I don’t recall. My memory about this is vague. I kept on bumping into people on exchanges. It was one of those things where I wanted to be more involved some day.
What made the biggest impression on me was the students. That was mostly about Aachen. The Aachen exchange was just so successful. Of course there were other sorts of exchanges—sports exchanges for instance. And there were arts programs, too. Our cultural affairs department was very involved at one time. But the student exchanges stood out. They have a cumulative effect. If twenty kids participate in a given year and you do it year after year, and then add the elementary exchanges, it really grows. After a while you have a pretty significant group who have these connections and can form ongoing relationships. Especially as a parent I came to know more and more people who had this as an enduring part of their lives. My kids didn’t participate directly, but a lot of their friends did, so they were involved indirectly. It grew over the last decade; there was a decade of it gearing up and then at some point there was enough of it going that it became like its own institution in the life of the community. That really has happened with Aachen. There is some sense of it spreading beyond that to the other cities, such as the Reims exchange. We are trying to make that happen with Coyoacán in the re-start effort. Two groups of students have now visited Arlington in the last two school years. And we’ve had a full exchange with Ivano-Frankivsk since last year. These are built on the Aachen experience.
Q: You just enumerated every sister city except San Miguel, which has its own special character. You have the language, which both connects and separates.
CZ: Yes, San Miguel is different in the sense because we have a large immigrant community here from El Salvador, and specifically from the San Miguel region. That is its strength and a reason for its success. It is also a limitation. In a sister city relationship where you don’t have that, where the communities are otherwise strangers, in some ways it’s more difficult and in others simpler. It is simpler to have diplomatic relationships where the community is not transnational. There is no baggage, the relationship is clean. When you have a relationship with an expatriate community here, you have tremendous links—something we need to take advantage of—but it also means the complications of ongoing relationships. Divisions are carried from one community into the other. So it has been a different kind of experience because of the attention focused on the expat community. I think it has a lot of potential that hasn’t yet been realized, potential to bring together people on our side. I would like to see that. I think it is important because El Salvador is a country we have a really close link to. As a country nationally that’s true—something Salvadorans are much more aware of than are we. Nationally they may be a small part of our culture, but we are inevitably a huge part of theirs. There is a tremendous and difficult history that involves us. But there are enough Salvadorans living in the United States that they call it the departamento quince (there are 14 “departamentos” in El Salvador and they refer to El Salvadorans living abroad in the United States as the 15th one). And they are mostly resident in three places—metropolitan Los Angeles, New York, and here. In Arlington they have been the largest single immigrant group.
I remember the first time I went with Mary Beth to eastern El Salvador. We were going out into villages outside the city. There were places that had names familiar to us, like Chirilagua, which is the name of a housing co-op here in Alexandria. Restaurants here, too, have names like El Tamarindo and La Union. Mostly names from the east of El Salvador, where many refugees came from. We were in a little village in the mountains and we saw a woman walking down the street wearing a Thomas Jefferson Middle School T-shirt. We stopped and spoke to her and said, pointing to her shirt, “our daughter goes to this school.” She smiled and explained that she had been given it by a cousin. Then we were talking to people in the city council and one told us he had lived on Wilson Boulevard in an apartment complex near Courthouse Plaza. Everywhere we would go we would meet people who had either lived here and gone back to El Salvador, or had a kid or cousin who lived here, and had all these familiar relationships. We were treated really well. It was a place that knew America and had a warm feeling for especially our part of America. But they had no tourism, so there wasn’t the jaded response that we here have towards tourists. They were excited about the fact that you were there and that you wanted to be there. It was one of the warmest receptions. There was the feeling that almost every other person you ran into not only knew something about the United States, but knew Arlington. They had family that lived here, if they hadn’t lived here themselves. That means that there is a special relationship that it seems like ASCA ought to be able to leverage.
It’s a different kind of thing than an Aachen or a Ivano-Frankivsk. There are different kinds of challenges, but it seems to me that it has great potential. The difficulties underscore the need to bring together people in our own community more. That is one of the functions that sister cities can serve.
Q: Your reflection about San Miguel makes me want to ask you something more generally about the purpose of sister cities. Do you have an explicit vision for the work of sister cities?
CZ: People have different models in mind about sister cities. I think I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t one and shouldn’t be one. So many factors intrude: the nature of the two places involved as well as the particular individuals responsible for getting something going between them. That will vary a lot between different places in the world. The focus will be different and I think that is good. I think that sister city can be as diverse as our community is. That means a variety of interests and a broad spectrum of activities that can be mutually beneficial. It will always be educational—that will be the core thing—the opportunity to expose young people to different worlds, both ways. That is a big part of any sister city relationship. But, that focus is bigger in some cases than in others. There are people interested more in economic development, whether, for example, we can do more business exchange. During our family trip to Europe last week, I had one of the fellows in Aachen talking to me about that. We have had that interest represented in our activities in the past. One of the people in that first Coyoacan delegation was our head of economic development. We haven’t really figured out how to do that in a systematic way; it might become more important in the future. Art and cultural exchanges, after education, are probably the most basic. We have done sports exchanges; we have done charitable kind of work. I don’t think that any one of these provides a definitive model. We develop relationships in ways that work and also know that these will change over time. I hope we see more of the elements that haven’t been as strong. There is also the factor of culture. The Aachen relationship has benefitted greatly because Germany is the kind of place that does this kind of thing. Germany is a place where they believe in sending their kids away to learn things. They believe in sending them away to other countries. They are obviously particularly interested in the United States, but it is a natural thing for them to do; it is part of the growing up experience. That also goes for the experience of having people in their homes. It is part of culture there, so that makes it easier to make something like this work. It is less so in France, but it is not alien. It is a whole lot different matter in a Latin American country or an eastern European country. That doesn’t mean they are not hospitable and interested in us, but they do have different expectations, different cultural patterns and traditions to which one must adapt to make the relationship work.
Q: I did a little research on the sister city experience in Washington DC and came away disappointed. The District has over a dozen sister city relationships, but they are all organized top-down and all seem to be empty of content.
CZ: Right. They signed an agreement with the mayor and generated a press release. But then?
Q: So how has the sister city experience informed the identity of the community and how does DC’s experience compare to Arlington’s intentions?
CZ: That is one of the things that makes it particularly important here. We do have an identity as an international community, both in the sense that we have great diversity with 100+ nationalities represented, so that’s part of our self-identity, but also because we’re a place full of diplomats, a place full of people formally representing other countries and we have lots of people who are our diplomats for whom Arlington is home-base. There are military people with international experiences living overseas. So, more than the vast majority of American communities, Arlington is one that is very international and is self-consciously so. Sister cities is a natural thing for us to be involved in. You see that in the organization, with so many who bring international experiences to it. To take just one example, I remember Wade and Ann Gregory, who had lived in El Salvador in the course of his work, as well as in other places. So many of the people involved have some kind of connection with the rest of the world and have an outlook that is international and cosmopolitan that is part of the sensibility of the Arlington community. So, I think that sister cities fits in very well with our identity, our notion of what it means to be a great community, and what is necessary to continue to become a great community. Reaching out and making contacts is benefitting us in many ways. Some of them are not tangible, but nonetheless meaningful. Interaction and exchange with other places and other cultures is integral to Arlington’s identity.
Q: How do you think ASCA is performing in that light?
CZ: Over the past few years it has been tremendous to see the flowering of ASCA—the level of participation from what was necessarily a small circle to start with, the different kinds of activities going on. It’s pretty impressive, considering that this is a volunteer operation. People can give what they can give, but they also have other things they have to do. It doesn’t have much money behind it, so it is mostly being driven by the enthusiasm of the members. The last few years of growth and blossoming have been very impressive. I wonder how widespread really active sister city programs are around the country. I know many sister cities exist, and I don’t know much about them, but I suspect that in many cases it is what you were describing in DC, where they have it for show, but how much they actually have going on is another matter. So, while I can look at ours and say, well, gee, there’s so much more we can do that we haven’t done yet, I am most impressed with how much has already been accomplished. The only initiative about which I had been more skeptical than Reims was the Ukrainian effort. It’s half-way around the world. There is no huge community base here to support it—though it is larger than I would ever have guessed. There are the difficulties they have just being in country.
Q: And getting visas!
CZ: And getting visas. It is all so complicated. When Chrystia [Sonevytsky, founding president of the ASCA Ivano-Frankivsk committee] started her efforts, I thought “great…but we’ll see if that lasts.” It was nice to encourage folks. I really doubted it would come to fruition, but Chrystia is a force. And as it turned out there were enough people interested in doing it. One of them is my wife, which is of course one of the reasons I was interested in that sister city more than I otherwise might have been. She has a strong family connection and personal feeling with that part of the world and became heavily involved, especially with the student exchange. I am still amazed that the student exchange has been so successful to this point—the very fact that it happened is to be celebrated. Keeping it alive is going to be a challenge. But it has really gone a lot farther and a lot faster than I ever would have imagined possible. It has pulled together a community of interest that you otherwise might not have been aware of and a good mix of people who either have personal connections, like Chrystia or Andriy, and people who don’t have any personal connection there, but have an interest. Then there is the interest of the kids who participated in the exchange and then, having done it, have come back and talk about the impact the experience has had on their lives. When young people have an experience like that, it very probably will affect what they might do next. It’s inspiring and shows the great potential we have to build on. And in fact, we can build, because of the “compound interest” feature of these programs, a little bit added each time, has a cumulative effect and it grows. We’ve really seen that with Aachen, because it has been growing so long and so steadily. I think you get to a point, a threshold where the thing has its own momentum. I hope we can get that with the other ones.
Q: You mentioned Bolivia. What is your sense of the prospects there?
CZ: I always thought that would happen eventually, partly because there is a strong Bolivian immigrant community here, and because that community is so organized, so focused on civic activities, whether it’s the sports leagues, the festivals, the dance groups, etc. The level and extent of organization is really phenomenal. There has been interest for a long time about doing something, especially with Cochabamba, where so many of the local community are from. I still think it could happen. It illustrates some of the difficulties we were discussing. You have the strength of having this community here, but you have different groups with rivalries among them. Then there is the question of who is going to do what. There are mechanisms to work that out and resolve that. Sometimes it just takes a long time to come together around a plan. There are a lot of good people interested in it with a clear connection with our community. I know I’d love to be part of that visit.Q: I hope you do, and I thank you for this interview.