Our nation of immigrants has stopped talking to each other. America, the great melting pot, still struggles with issues of mass inclusivity of all cultures. In 2019, it seems most debates include migration, climate change, refugees, people fleeing war, and corrupt governments from Syria to Guatemala. Despite all this chaos, local organizations are bridging the gap and keeping channels open. It should come as no surprise that New Britain, Connecticut, a former industrial center built by immigrants, has forged bonds between the old and new world. Resident volunteers of the Sister City Committee (SCC) have dedicated their lives to this non-profit council in an effort to create relationships with people from other countries and cultures.
The SCC was established in 1990 to oversee joint friendship and cooperation between New Britain and cities around the world for a cultural exchange of values, traditions, and sightseeing native homelands. The New Britain SCC has successfully represented the New Britain Common Council, Chamber of Commerce, local civic groups, and Central Connecticut State University (CCSU).
An eight hour drive southwest from Germany’s capital, Berlin, lies the baroque town of Rastatt along the Rhine River. Rastatt is known for some of the world’s most beautiful architecture, such as the famous Parish Church of Saint Alexander and the Pagodenburg, a restaurant cultivated on a water tower that has been a popular meeting spot since the late 1950s. The Sister City relationship was initiated by New Britain native and CCSU alumni, Peter Kilduff, 78, and his wife, Judy. Two generations of the Kilduffs have visited Germany with the SCC.
We learned from the SCC that “during the 300th anniversary of German emigration to America in 1983, the Lord Mayor of Rastatt visited New Britain for local festivities. The following year, during Rastatt’s 900th anniversary celebration, a formal sister city agreement was signed in the German City. Since then, CCSU faculty, local citizens, college and high school students of both cities traveled abroad to learn about each other’s countries. Rastatt has been New Britain’s flagship Sister City relationship for over thirty-five years.”
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. New Britain Mayor William J. McNamara and Kilduff had to deal with very hostile national events within their countries when they established the sister cities agreement. Kilduff had to negotiate with East and West Germany. “At the time Germany was a divided nation. The trick was coming up with the right city,” Kilduff said. Eventually Kilduff found the city of Rastatt. “So I get a call,‘You’ve hit the jackpot!’ They called Rastatt and they said there’s an American looking for a sister city, and they were looking for an American sister city. It was just that simple.”
The people of Rastatt welcomed the visitors to their homeland with open arms.
Giannitsa, Greece (Pronounced: Yia-nni-TSA)
The newest sister city of them all, Giannitsa, rests between the peaks of Mount Paiko and the vast plains, right in the center of Macedonia. This city is known as Greece’s cultural capital. The sister city connection was coordinated by Giannitsa native George Rados, 76, of New Britain’s Greek community and former New Britain Mayor Lucian Pawlak
The mayor of Giannitsa signed the sister city agreement with New Britain in 2000. The following September, a New Britain delegation celebrated the union and visited Paniyri; a festival equivalent to New Englanders great state fair, the “Big E.” Paniyri is a time of joy and cultural education.
The mission of the SCC is to practice cultural exchange and to educate people about one another without conflict. In their lifetimes, both Kilduff and Rados witnessed political upheaval and war, yet still wanted to pursue this mission. In their hearts, despite controversy, they wanted a genuine, peaceful connection between countries.
“I fully support these trips to these countries because that is the only way, through intermingling, we can start understanding one another and have better relationships. To me, race does exist, but not with the understanding of today’s interpretation. A human is a human as far as I’m concerned,” said Rados. “I am grateful for Dr. Gil and Dr. Torro for their interest and tremendous efforts to support us. As long as I’m alive and capable, I’ll never give up on this.” He’s appreciative of the support from CCSU professor Dr. Gilbert Gigliotti and President Zulma R. Torro.
Happily celebrating thirty-five years of service, the SCC is still looking to recruit new members to join them in exploring new countries. Their colleagues from other countries want to extend connections as well. “The most special thing to me are the meetings, when we talk about the political, economical, or other aspects of our cities and countries,” said Axel Wazfig, a second generation SCC member and German citizen. “You know, there are many things that build a band of partners, even when you only talk to each other.”
Participants from all countries are hoping that with more volunteers, more connections can be made again. “Now there is low contact, maybe because of the distance. Internet and email reduce the distance, but it is not the same,” Wazfig said. “Your interaction makes me think about how we can activate the contact for more people. There will be further contact and finally there will be new visits overseas.”
The SCC members also share Wazfig’s desire to make connections again. Since 2000, Rados has coordinated trips to Greece for over one hundred twenty community members and three CCSU student groups. Kilduff has also coordinated groups of travelers to tour Germany. Student trips overseas started back up again in March 2019 and two more trips have been planned for the upcoming Spring 2020 semester. CCSU encourages students to travel abroad by offering scholarships.
Kilduff, Rados, and other founders of the SCC had one mission: to create an inclusive culturally diverse world. Influenced by the cultural diversity in immigrant communities within New Britain, they decided to go straight to the homeland. The SCC expose New Britain residents to different cultures.
There is an opportunity to join CCSU on a class trip to Japan which is scheduled to visit the Sister City Atsugi. There is also an opportunity to join CCSU on Professor Gigliotti’s class trip to Greece scheduled for March 13th, 2020.
If you are intrigued to explore new countries and embrace new cultures, contact the Sister City Committee today.
Paula Torres Gonzalez is a staff writer at Blue Muse Magazine
Photos by Paula Torres Gonzalez for Blue Muse Magazine
Featured Image by http://www.todesignllc.com
Paula–Great to see such an informative piece. The history of New Britain could fill books. Nice job on this!