It’s true – our beloved Sacramento, California has 12 sister cities spanning the globe. The first, Manila, Philippines (1961) was officially endorsed in 1961, and the last was Ashkelon, Israel as of August 15, 2012. In between there was Matsuyama, Japan (1981), Jinan, China (1984), Hamilton, New Zealand (1988), Liestal, Switzerland (1989), Chisinau, Moldova (1989), Yongsan-gu, Seoul in South Korea (1997), San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua (2006), Pasay City, Philippines (2006), Mexicali, Mexico (2006), and Bethlehem, Palestine (2009).
The Sister City international (SCI) program was enacted in the United States in 1959 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The purpose was to establish a “people-to-people” program with city partnerships that allowed citizens of both communities to learn about each other, foster involved business, grow good relations, and educational, economic and arts exchange.
Starting with the capital city of Manila in the Philippines in the early 1960s, Sacramento was host to a family tree of diverse, fascinating – and sometimes controversial – cities around the globe. Several mayors, delegates, and ambassadors of Sacramento have traveled to these cities abroad, as well as dignitaries, students, and regular citizens traveling to northern California to visit us.
Here is a quick fact sheet on Sacramento’s 12 sister cities:
Country: The Philippines
Located: Southeast Asia
Population: 1,652,171 as of the 2010 census (though it could be unofficially triple that or more)
Area: 14.88 square miles
Official website: www.manila.gov.ph
Unique facts: Manila is made up of 896 separate Barangays, or neighborhoods, each with their own local governance.
What it has common with Sacramento: Envision the worst traffic jam on the smoggiest day in Sacramento, then multiply it by 100 and you have an idea of every day life Manila.
Located: Matsuyama is the capital city of Ehime Prefecture (like a province) on the island of Shikoku in Japan.
Area: 165 square miles
Official website: www.city.matsuyama.ehime.jp/lang/en
Unique facts: The city name means “pine mountain” in Japanese and it’s known for its hot springs, some of the oldest in Japan.
What it has common with Sacramento: The city was founded in 1889, only a few decades after Sacramento officially became a city.
Country: People’s Republic of China
Area: 3,157 square miles
Official website: www.jinan.gov.cn
Unique facts: With almost 5 million people in the official city and almost 7 million in the metro area, Jinan still only ranks as the 24th most populous city in China!
What it has common with Sacramento: Chinese settlers were some of the first to Sacramento, working the gold mines and building the railroads, and there was a small yet lively Chinatown are located on I Street between Second and Sixth downtown, the traces of which you can still see today.
Country: New Zealand
Located: Oceania, east of Australia
Area: 338 square miles
Official website: www.hamilton.govt.nz
Unique facts: New Zealanders are called “Kiwis,” a reference to their national bird. Hamilton was also one of the NZ sites for the filming of the Lord of the Rings movies and you can still visit Hobbiton there.
What it has common with Sacramento: Sacramento sits at a low elevation, surrounded by waterways, and Hamilton is one of the lowest points in New Zealand and surrounded by seven huge bogs.
Area: 7.02 square miles
Official website: www.liestal.ch
Unique facts: Switzerland does things differently, often abstaining from regional wars, using the Swiss Franc instead of the Euro, and hosting foreigners so much that 23% of its population are not Swiss.
What it has common with Sacramento: Just as Sacramento’s foothills rise to meet glorious Lake Tahoe, Liestal is a hill city (1,073 feet above sea level) that sits in the shadow of the Swiss Alps.
Country: The Republic of Moldova
Located: Eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine
Area: 217 square miles
Official website: www.chisinau.md
Unique facts: Moldova is a huge wine-producing nation, ranked as the 12th largest wine exporter in the world. Strangely, it also has the 3rd best Internet network in the world.
What it has common with Sacramento: Both Chisinau and Sacramento are capital cities (the former of a country, the latter of a state,) and their populations are almost identical.
Country: South Korea
Located: A prefecture of Seoul, the capital city
Area: 8.44 square miles
Official website: http://english.yongsan.go.kr/site/en/index.jsp
Unique facts: The name means "Dragon Hill.”
What it has common with Sacramento: Yongsan-gu was until recently the site of a large United States military base in the center of Seoul, though it was moved in 2013.
San Juan de Oriente
Located: Central America just north of Costa Rica
Area: 5.3 square miles
Official website: none
Unique facts: Many people think of dangerous civil wars when they think of Nicaragua, but in fact the country is now very stable and one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world! They filmed Survivor on an island near the charming and sleepy village of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
What it has common with Sacramento: San Juan de Oriente is a tiny community filled with ceramic artisans, known as the best at their craft in the country. So think of a Second Saturday Art Walk and that is what it might look like every day, 365 days a year!
Located: One of the cities in Manila (the capital is so big they call it ‘Metro Manila’ and divided it up into separate cities!)
Area: 7.14 square miles
Official website: www.pasay.gov.ph
Unique facts: The culture of the Philippines is very Americanized and there are more than 1.5 million Filipinos living in California.
What it has common with Sacramento: Arden Mall and other malls and shopping centers are always bustling in Sacramento, and the SM Mall and other malls are a popular destination for Filipinos in Pasay.
Located: The Mexican state of Baja California
Area: 43.9 square miles
Official website: none
Unique facts: Mexicali is the epicenter of the Mexican aerospace industry starting when Rockwell Collins established their operation there in 1966.
What it has common with Sacramento: Just like Sacramento and surrounding areas, Mexicali used to be primarily an agricultural region but now, thanks to the influx of industry and international companies, boats a skilled and highly educated populace.
Located: Bethlehem is located in the West Bank about 6 miles from the Israeli city of Jerusalem.
Population: 25,000 people
Area: 4.097 square miles
Official website: www.bethlehem-city.org
Unique facts: Founded 1400 BCE, Bethlehem is attributed as the birthplace of Jesus.
What it has common with Sacramento: Just as Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, Bethlehem has always been a cultural, ethnic, and religiously mixed settlement. It changed hands many times over the centuries and now has a Muslim majority but still is home to a large Palestinian Christian community, with millions of tourists from all faith visiting every year.
Located: 31 miles south of Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean Sea
Area: 18.451 square miles
Official website: www.ashkelon.muni.il
Unique facts: Throughout its ancient history, Ashkelon was ruled by the Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Persians, Arabs, and Crusaders.
What it has common with Sacramento: If the Mayors and leaders of Sacramento sometimes find themselves mired in controversy, so was the adoption of Ashkelon as a sister city in 2012, as it was met with political protests and loud opposition by some – but approved unanimously when it came to a vote.