San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) pose for a photo during the All Mexico-US Sister Cities Mayors' Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) pose for a photo during the All Mexico-US Sister Cities Mayors' Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio International Relations Office

GUADALAJARA, MEXICO – San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) entered Guadalajara’s stately municipal palace through bright murals while traditional mariachi music played Thursday for the start of the first-ever All Mexico-US Sister Cities Mayors’ Summit.

“This summit is truly about building bridges for commerce, trade, education, and culture and art between the United States and Mexico at a time when geopolitical affairs [are] presenting us with challenges,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report. “For San Antonio this is about rekindling a relationship that was one of our first with Mexico.”

A delegation of more than 20 members of the San Antonio business and education community joined Nirenberg and Gonzales to discuss the role city leaders play in building economic development opportunities and educational exchanges across borders. More than 60 mayors and officials from more than 30 U.S. and Mexican cities are at the summit.

Nirenberg is the summit co-chair alongside San José, Calif. Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco. San Antonio was Guadalajara’s first sister city in the United States. The agreement was signed in 1974.

San Antonio leaders in attendance Thursday included representatives from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the City of San Antonio International Relations Office, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Port San Antonio, Brooks, and Alamo Colleges.

“I look forward to working with one of our oldest Sister Cities to advance our relationship on important issues such as immigration, transportation, and economic development,” said Gonzales, who will participate in a panel about immigration Friday. “Guadalajara has long held a very special place in my family’s heart as my mother spent much of her young life [here].”

The historic city center of Guadalajara, Mexico is known for its fountains and cultural centers.
The historic city center of Guadalajara, Mexico is known for its fountains and cultural centers. Credit: Rocío Guenther for the San Antonio Report

Other topics officials will discuss during the summit over the weekend include climate change, innovation, cross-border cooperation, culture, and the power of sports to transform lives.

What is a Sister City?

“A sister city organization is a volunteer group of ordinary citizens who, with the support of their local elected officials, form long-term relationships with people and organizations in a city abroad,” states the the Sister Cities International website. “Each sister city organization is independent and pursues the activities and thematic areas that are important to them and their community including municipal, business, trade, educational and cultural exchanges with their sister city.”

This unique summit that focuses on relations between the U.S. and Mexico was put together by the co-host cities of El Paso, San Antonio, San Jose, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M., said  Stephen “Tim” Quigley, Jr., chair of the Sister Cities International board of directors.

Sherry Dowlatshahi, the City of San Antonio’s chief of protocol and head of International Relations, told the Rivard Report that the summit took six months to plan.

“This is a time, more than ever before, at the subnational level, local government, and citizen-diplomat level, we need to show our friendship,” she said. ” I am very excited to be here because San Antonio is one of the lead cities in organizing this summit [and] having so many leaders from the U.S. come here to Guadalajara is a symbolic act.”

Guadalajara – ‘The Pearl of Mexico’

Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, is a symbol of innovation and Mexican identity for many people. It’s the birthplace of mariachi; charrería, a traditional equestrian show; the famous torta ahogada, or “drowned” sandwich; and the popular alcoholic beverage tequila. Its booming tech scene and prestigious universities inspired its moniker “Silicon Valley of Mexico.”

In addition to being known for its modernist architecture, galleries, and forward-thinking cuisine, Guadalajara was designated as a Creative City in Media Arts by UNESCO in 2017 – the same year San Antonio received its own designation as a Creative City of Gastronomy.

“We are celebrating the 467th anniversary of the founding of Guadalajara this month, and we are proud that you will all be part of these celebrations,” Guadalajara Mayor Juan Enrique Ibarra said at the opening ceremony of the summit. “In this historic year, Guadalajara’s sister city – San Antonio – also is celebrating its 300th anniversary.”

Quigley praised Guadalajara for its “visionary international strategy with a scope on local development,” as a member of the sister cities network, adding that the city has a long tradition of leadership when it comes to international engagement.

“The participation and level of engagement that we are seeing in this summit is a testament to the work that local leaders are doing to build relationships that will yield economic development opportunities and binational collaboration on trade, immigration, sports and education initiatives for our city,” Nirenberg said.

After sipping on tamarind margaritas and snacking on traditional Mexican hors d’oeuvres Thursday, summit attendees enjoyed the GDLuz festival, a light show in the city’s historic center which included projections on the city’s cathedral – not unlike Restored by Light events at San Antonio’s Spanish-colonial missions.

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...