The Amigo Club and Ashland’s close ties to Guanajuato trace back to the late1960s, when a Southern Oregon University language professor rented a bus and took some students to Mexico over Christmas vacation. The idea caught on and the professor, Graciela "Señora Chela" Tapp-Kocks, began leading students and community members on annual visits. The featured destination was Guanajuato, a colonial mining town and cultural center in the mountains of the Sierra de Guanajuato in Central Mexico.
The travelers found themselves serving as unofficial representatives of Ashland.
Inspired by their people-to-people contacts, Sra. Chela and a group of enthusiastic community boosters became the support network for the exchange of students, academics, professionals, city officials and common citizens between the two cities. The Amigo Club grew out of that group in 1969.
The Amigos pushed hard for the Sister City affiliation, and its academic members encouraged the founding of the Amistad student-exchange program between Southern Oregon University and the Universidad de Guanajuato.
The Amigo Club remains the key support group that for more than 40 years has kept alive Ashland's enthusiasm for the Sister City relationship with Guanajuato.
Ashland and Guanajuato have considered themselves Sister Cities since 1969. The affiliation was officially recognized in the 1970s by Sister Cities International, an incorporated citizen diplomacy network between more than 1,100 U.S. cities and 1,700 cities in 123 other countries. The network was formed after World War II to involve people and organized groups in citizen diplomacy with the hope that people-to-people relationships would lessen the chance of future world conflicts.
Ashland and Guanajuato have a lot in common.
Each has an Amigo Club whose members are local citizens dedicated to strengthening Sister City ties.
Ashland is the home of Southern Oregon University and Guanajuato has the Universidad de Guanajuato, founded 275 years ago as a Jesuit institution, but now a public university.
The Ashland Public Library and Southern Oregon University each has a "Guanajuato Room," and the University of Guanajuato and the city's Casa de Cultura each has a "Sala Ashland." Guanajuato has a "Calle Ashland" and a "Paseo Ashland," and Ashland has a "Calle Guanajuato" beside Ashland Creek behind the historical downtown plaza.
Tourists flock to each city, drawn by their beautiful natural settings, picturesque downtowns, and historical, cultural and recreational attractions.
A publication of UNESCO, which added Guanajuato to the World Heritage list in 1988, gives this description: “Nestled in a narrow gorge of the Sierra Madre in the heart of Mexico, Guanajuato is one of those post-Columbian towns hewn out of rock that seem to spring
straight from the mountains. … The town lies above a network of subterranean streets. Its majestic old mansions, baroque and neo-classical churches, palaces, convents and hospital have all the charm of a bygone era.”
Both cities are cultural centers.
Guanajuato’s counterpart to the Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the International Cervantes Festival (Festival Internacional Cervantino), an annual three-week celebration that features artists from around the world. The festival is considered one of Latin America’s most important cultural events, just as the Ashland Shakespeare Festival is one of the most prestigious regional theaters in the United States.
The Ashland Gallery Association says Ashland “has received national recognition by being selected as the number 2 small art town in the nation,” and ranks high in the book titled “The 100 Best Art Towns in America.”
Guanajuato is home to many artists and galleries. It is the birthplace in 1886 of Diego Rivera, the muralist credited with single-handedly changing the course of his country’s art. The Diego Rivera House Museum, located in the historic center of the city, is where Rivera was born and lived for the first six years of his life.
Ashland and Guanajuato each have historical significance, as well.
Ashland was a crossroads for pioneers arriving from the east over the Applegate Trail and those traveling north and south between the Willamette Valley and California. Beginning in the early 1850s, these emigrants to Oregon settled along streams known today as Ashland and Bear Creeks and replaced the Native American population. Early stagecoach and railroad lines connected Ashland with points north and south.
Founded in the early 16th century, Guanajuato became the world’s leading silver-extraction center in the 18th century. It played a major role in the War of Independence led by the rebel priest Miguel Hidalgo in 1810. Former President Vicente Fox Quesada came from Guanajuato.