A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double. - Toni Morrison
Ah, Tacoma: defined by mountain and harbor proximity; a proud glassblowing tradition; local farm, food, and libation obsession; hills; museums; a preoccupation with revitalization; and bricks. And perhaps a few other things. But although no two places are the same, that doesn’t mean that Tacoma is without family — and by family, I mean sisters.
Since establishing Kitakyushu, Japan as our first sister city in 1959, Tacoma has steadily sought out sister friends across the globe defining kinship economically, culturally, and in some cases geographically.
As the Tacoma Culture website states, “The mission of the Tacoma Sister Cities program is to promote cultural and political diversity. Sister Cities encourage exchange between business, governments, health, arts, cultural and educational groups, and organizations.”
Currently Tacoma has 12 sister cities, and conceivably we could one day have as many as 195, as long as we stick to one per country. Tacoma defines our sisters as cities that feature a port or other major economic aspects complementary or similar to Tacoma; share mutual goals leading to the betterment of cultural, educational, social, and health environments for its citizens; and that are led by governments that engage in open dialogue leading to increased international understanding. Once the Tacoma City Council approves the recommended sibling, the sisterhood grows.
The City of Tacoma is proud of its dozen sisters and excited to welcome the newest into the fold. This spring, the Tacoma City Council approved a new Sister City: the French Riviera town of Biot. Or, as it is identified in France, a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.
A tiny, medieval hilltop village perched above the Mediterranean, Biot is famous for a few fairly Tacoma-ish elements. Biot is renowned for glassmaking and pottery, their dedication to preserving and celebrating craft and art, the village’s picturesque medieval architecture, and narrow streets perfect for playing “Boules Carrées” (Squared Balls), a kind of French bocce played with cubes instead of round balls — perhaps not so coincidentally, a sport perfect for Tacoma alleys.
Clearly our kinship with Biot is reflected in our own glassmaking tradition, our nearby water, and our appreciation of crafters and creators.
It is fitting that Tacoma and Biot will make the sisterhood official with an October visit by French officials, glass artist Jean-Claude Novaro, and Biot Mayor Jean-Pierre Dermit when the declaration will be signed in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop.
Always eager to embrace new programs back in its younger days, Tacoma began establishing sister cities only three years after President Eisenhower requested the creation of Sister Cities International in 1956. From the city website: “the goal of the program is to promote deeper cultural understanding, international visitation, and hospitality that leads to long lasting relationships. More recently, Sister City links have become an increasingly important conduit for economic development.”
Tacoma counts the following as global sisters: Kitakyushu, Japan (since 1959), Gunsan, South Korea (since 1978), Kiryat-Motzkin, Israel (since 1979), Aalesund, Norway (since 1986), Vladivostok, Russia (since 1992), Fuzhou, China (since 1994), Davao City, Philippines (since 1994), George, South Africa (since 1997), Cienfuegos, Cuba (since 2000), Taichung, Taiwan (since 2000), El Jajida, Morocco (since 2007), and Biot, France (since 2012).
Tacoma celebrates Sister Cities in many ways including the annual Sister City Film Fest, occasional music festivals, travel and volunteer opportunities, student exchanges, fundraising parties to support the travel of delegates and representatives, and Dragon Boat Races.
Like our inspired Tacoma Dragon Boat Association, I recommend Tacoma consider celebrating Biot by establishing our own Squared Balls Association. I suppose we could even get French-Riviera fancy (and a little less crudely anatomical) and call it Boules Carrées Société des Ruelles de Tacoma.
Bonjour, Biot! Bienvenue dans la famille!