Carlos Moldonado: About 40 years ago, we got an invitation from the city of Puebla, Mexico, to become sister cities. Dr. Hopper, who was president of Southern Colorado [State] College at the time, got a group together and they traveled there. Out of that trip came the idea for sister cities. Then Henry Reyes continued with that idea. That was our first sister city. Then about five years later, one of our state representatives got an invitation to join Sister Cities International because a city in China, Weifang, wanted to make a connection with Colorado.[…]Then about 10 years later, we added Chihuahua.
PULP: What period of time was this?
CM: It was in the 80s. Then we began sister cities with Chihuahua. Then after that, we added Lucca Sicula, Sicily and Bergamo, Italy. The last one we added was Maribor, Slovenia. We like to have sister cities in places where there is a lot of [the] Pueblo population which is represented by those cultures. And that’s why we have Mexico, Italy and Slovenia, because those cultures are very strong in Pueblo…We have college students from Slovenia and Italy in Pueblo right now, and we’re sending students to universities in our sister cities. That’s our main emphasis, education. But, we do culture, we do music, we do art, we have police exchanges, we have fireman exchanges, and administrators from our sister cities come here to learn about how our city is run, and we send our administrators to our sister cities to learn about their ways.
PULP: How does the Sister City organization help students go to foreign universities?
CM: We facilitate – we raise monies to help with the exchange. In some cases, we give scholarships to students. We make direct contact with those universities in Italy, Slovenia and Mexico. We work with them to find host families, to make sure that our students are taken care of – we really get involved in that.
PULP: Do any of the students who come here, stay?
CM: Well, some do, especially with Mexico. After they have completed their training here, they are afforded the opportunity to stay and work in the United States for one year. And then, if the company that they work for [decides] that they are good employees, then they apply for a visa.
PULP: When the students come for these activities, is there fanfare?
CM: Of course, we welcome them Pueblo style! They stay with families so they get to know our culture.[…]We have one person from Slovenia who has been coming here for six years [in] a row.
PULP: Do we participate in any sort of economic exchange or activities?
CM: We worked very closely with other organizations; we are partners with the Latino Chamber of Commerce, and we are planning on having a Chihuahua expo to bring Chihuahua products to Pueblo. That’s going to happen during Fiesta Day weekend. And we are going to try to take Colorado products to Chihuahua for a Colorado expo there. Chihuahua is a big city, a million people. So we hope to make those connections, to improve on our commerce and trade, so that’s also part of what we do.
PULP: Is this commerce and trade exchange happening with any of the other sister cities?
CM: Not right now. We have a good relationship with Grupo Cemento of Chihuahua here, and we try to help in whatever way we can with that relationship. Atlas Pacific has a plant in Italy, and we use that connection also, to help.
PULP: When the sister city commissioners visit other cities, they go on their own dime?
CM: Oh yes, yes, we pay for our own way.
PULP: Is there anything else we need to know?
CM: We are involved in a lot of things…We work closely with our local governments. And that’s why we are able to bring the police from Chihuahua […] here for training. They had the army from Ft. Carson come in and help; they had the state patrol come in to help – it was a complete package – they really need that training. The city police also donated bullet-proof vests to Chihuahua.
PULP: Is there an event coming up?
CM: International Taste is our big event. That’s when we raise our money. You’ll get to taste food from Slovenia, and we don’t have a Slovenian restaurant in town, but you can have it there. We have Chinese, Mexican, German, of course, American and the music! We have performers all day! That’s our big, big event for the year.
PULP: How does someone end up on the Sister City Commission?
CM: They apply and the commissioners decide who gets on the commission. They decide who is qualified. You can reapply every three years for the chance to be reappointed.
We look for people who have the experience and the knowledge and the how-to to deal with different systems. Of course, they are all different – the Italian, the Mexican, the Chinese, the Slovenian – they are all very, very different. You need to follow protocol, and you need to not to step on any toes, and you need to see how the different governments work and how they operate. It’s fun; it’s a lot of fun!
PULP: How long have you been on the commission?
CM: Probably 26 or 27 years? I love it. It’s my life. I worked for CSUP and my last job there was Director of International Programs, so this has been my life. International studies, international everything. I’ve been all over the world, and I love different cultures, different languages. It’s been great! That’s my passion. I’ll stay there until they kick me out!
To learn more, please visit pueblosistercities.org and sister-cities.org
By Rosemary Thomas