During a summer European vacation in Italy and Germany, one of our dreams took shape both in the U.S. and in Italy.
I was born and raised in Italy, before moving to the U.S. in 2006, first to Madison, Wis., and then here in Chautauqua County since 2009. My hometown, Colle di Val d'Elsa, is located between Florence and Siena, near the Chianti region, renowned for its red wine. My mother, Sandra, visits our family once or twice yearly, and before coming to Fredonia last January, she had the opportunity to talk with my hometown's Councilor for Cultural Politics and Education, Dr. Federica Casprini. While discussing Italian immigration to the Chautauqua area, Dr. Casprini floated the idea of trying to establish a sister-city relationship (or pact of friendship) between Colle di Val d'Elsa and Fredonia and/or Dunkirk.
With this idea in mind, last spring, at several CIAO (Chautauqua Italian American Organization) Board meetings, we began discussing the possibility of a sister-city project. Before leaving to Italy at the end of May, a couple of meetings took place.
The meeting in July at Town Hall of Colle di Val d’Elsa. From left: Tiziano Catarina, Chiara De Santi, Federica Casprini and Franca Rossi.
At the beginning of May, I met with CIAO President and Secretary Sam Crisanti and Nance Ortolano, and with former Fredonia mayor Charles St. George. As CIAO, we confirm our support for this project, as does St. George, who previously tried to establish a sister-city relationship with Valledolmo, in Sicily, during his time as mayor, but it failed to materialize.
Thus, there was a further meeting at the end of May on the campus of SUNY Fredonia, where Dean of Arts and Science Dr. John Kijinski, Professor of Philosophy Dr. Raymond Belliotti, Technology Incubator Director Robert Fritzinger, Director of International Education Mary Sasso and I explored various possibilities for such a project. Ideas ranged from educational, cultural, and professional exchanges to tourist relations being established between the cities. The meeting demonstrated enthusiasm across several areas, and subsequently, our new president, Dr. Virginia Horvath, has also shown interest in the project.
While in Italy, at the beginning of June SUNY Fredonia Political Science Professor Dr. Alex Caviedes and I met with the administrators of my hometown. The meeting was attended by few people, including the Mayor Paolo Brogioni, Dr. Federica Casprini, and the President of the Council representing the local associations, Tiziano Catarina. This two-hour discussion indicated a strong interest in creating a sister-city relationship, particularly in terms of connecting certain local civic associations from the towns involved to also create a bridge between the two sides of the Atlantic.
Having established the interest from the Italian side, Dr. Caviedes and I contacted the mayors of Fredonia and Dunkirk to gauge whether there was interest. Both responded affirmatively, which prompted a second meeting in Italy at the end of July with the Council representing the 85 associations located in Colle di Val d'Elsa. In attendance were individuals from various organizations linked to culture, children, women, theater, music, sport, and the like. On this occasion, we were able to present our Chautauqua region, and in particular Fredonia and Dunkirk, advertising it in terms of commerce, industry, education, and tourism, together with the entire project itself.
Some of the ideas that emerged at the meeting included exchanges of artists, such as community theater productions as well as other art forms. For example, among the questions that were raised was whether there would be the possibility to have someone visit Colle to teach English to local children. With Dr. Casprini, we are planning to involve the schools in Colle to create a bridge, most likely with the use of video conferencing to help people meet, at least virtually. The concept of the project was embraced with enthusiasm, and the administration is now initiating a procedure, which involves establishing a committee and then bringing the proposal before the Town Council, which would need to approve it.
After returning stateside, Dr. Caviedes and I met Village of Fredonia Mayor Keefe and afterward, invited by John D'Agostino, we also attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting, where we presented the project to the City of Dunkirk Mayor A.J. Dolce as well. Some questions remain to be addressed, but this should occur during the fall when further administrative steps can be taken in our region as well.
Since a community is represented by its local associations and organizations, the key element for a successful sister-city relationship would be to link the various groups, both here and there. Thus, we ask representatives from organizations active in the Fredonia/Dunkirk area and in Chautauqua County to contact me if they would be interested in being involved in such a project: the greater the number, the more we can give to our communities. We may also begin conceiving possible events that we could organize to vitalize the sister-city relationship. In these initial phases and later on if this project materializes into something concrete we ask our local community not only to support, but also to help in creating a sustainable environment for this idea.
I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, both named and unnamed, who offered their time, enthusiasm and vision to meet and to explore the project. For any information, ideas, inquiries, contact me at email@example.com.
Chiara DeSanti is is a professor of Italian studies at SUNY Fredonia. Send comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org