Sister cities shared traits spark cultural dialogue

By The Columbia Chronicle

A recent celebration of Pakistani art underscored how members of Chicago’s cultural associations are trying to forge a relationship between the international community and the city.

In 1960, Chicago welcomed Warsaw, Poland as its first sister city, which led to the creation of the Chicago Sister Cities International program. Since then, 27 additional cities have joined the ranks.

One of Chicago’s newer sister cities, Lahore, Pakistan, was recognized for its advancement in art, music, writing and film Oct. 17 at an event titled “From Chicago to Lahore: A Cultural Nexus,” hosted by CSCI.

The event showcased the similarities between Chicago and Lahore, which became a sister city in 2007. During the event, Pakistani artists exhibited their work, while poets gave readings. Following the exhibition, a Pakistani film was shown that featured Lahore’s cinematic achievements.

Lahore, like Chicago, is a city of gardens, sits on a body of water and is its country’s third largest city. CSCI speakers compared the two metropolises’ geographical location and population size and drew parallels between Chicago’s Grant and Millennium parks and the Chicago Riverwalk.

“The sister city program is important because it allows Chicago to become connected with cities’ communities, including ethnic and business communities,” said CSCI executive director Leroy Allala. “It allows us to share ideas and the best practice of what Chicago has to offer.”

According to Allala, showcasing a society’s culture is the simplest way to promote a city. He stressed that building international relationships can help eliminate stereotypes by emphasizing cultural similarities among groups that differ socially and religiously.

“By sharing similar experiences and culture, the sister city program is able to promote peace and tolerance regardless of personal beliefs,” Allala said. “It exemplifies citizen diplomacy.”

According to keynote speaker Lorraine Adams, a novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, supporting creativity brings out the best in both societies.

“Learning about sister cities inspires people to travel internationally, which is very important [for] promoting tourism and [spreading] culture across borders and oceans,” Adams said.

Sadia Uqaili, art director of Snow City, an organization that looks to build cultural bonds through expression, said art can prompt peace among international societies.

Uqaili said without the sister city program, Chicago would not be able to provide proper opportunities for individual growth and cultural expression to its diverse communities.

“People are sharing their ideas all the time, and this [program] looks to provoke people to observe the world around them and create unique art that represents their personal beliefs,” Uqaili said.