Bakersfield’s family is growing. The city will soon add another “sister city” to its list of municipal relatives.
In a little more than a week, a local delegation will travel to southwestern France to ink a sister city agreement with Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a beachside town near the Spanish border that has strong cultural connections to Bakersfield.
“We’re trying to promote awareness and understanding to different cultures and people,” said John Hefner, president of Bakersfield Sister City Project Corporation. “We share our homes. We share our experiences, and we also, sometimes, have some business exchanges.”
Bakersfield has sister city agreements with six other cities throughout the world.
The city first established a relationship with Wakayama, Japan in 1961, and most recently formed a sister city bond with Amritsar in northern India in 2011.
The agreements are meant to promote business and cultural ties between each location.
President Dwight Eisenhower initiated Sister City International in 1956 as a citizen-led diplomacy initiative meant to promote peace through understanding.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz will be Bakersfield’s seventh sister city, and the first to be added in eight years.
“Through ongoing exchanges in business, education and culture, our cities, both sister cities become richer as we learn from one another,” said Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh.
Like many of Bakersfield’s other sister cities, Saint-Jean-de-Luz has close ties to Bakersfield.
The city of around 15,000 sits in Basque Country, a region that straddles the border of France and Spain that is the home of the Basque people, many of whom have moved to Bakersfield.
“We know that area very well,” said Joe Coscarart, a bar manager at Wool Growers, one of Bakersfield’s Basque restaurants. “Ninety percent of the (Basque) people here, they’re from that same area.”
A small but prominent population of Basque people live in Bakersfield and restaurants such as Wool Growers can trace their origins back to the region.
Coscarart said he came to Bakersfield from an area in Spain around 30 miles away from Saint-Jean-de-Luz in 1975.
“A lot of people come from all over the world to go there,” he said of Bakersfield’s newest sister city. “It’s a tourist town. It’s like a resort. They have a lot of hotels and restaurants. People in the summer time go there to enjoy the beaches.”
The Bakersfield delegation is scheduled to arrive on June 19. Hefner, Goh, several local politicians, a cadre of high school students and other local residents will travel to Saint-Jean-de-Luz to participate in a sightseeing expedition and the official signing of the sister city memorandum of understanding.
During the trip, the delegation will participate in the Festival of Saint John, a traditional ceremony to celebrate the patron saint of the town.
“This whole festival, and this whole city is sort of like a fairytale city,” Hefner said. “It’s a very small, with old cobblestone streets and hundreds of tri-level homes that have been in families for many, many, years. It’s just such a place that’s unbelievably beautiful.”
Members of the delegation will pay for the trip themselves, making the cost to the city zero.
“Bakersfield is very rich in our cultural diversity,” Goh said. “We are honored to be able to celebrate that culture with places around the world.”