PICA’s Sister City History
In 1991 Bangor area residents began a sister city relationship with Carasque, a small town deep in the mountains of Chalatenango Province, El Salvador. With a population of about 400 people at that time, Carasque had a remarkable history of suffering, struggle and hope. Over the years the Bangor-Carasque sistering relationship has grown into a tight bond of mutual support and friendship. These people-to-people connections anchor PICA’s work of taking local action for global justice. Here is a personal account of what sistering means to one long-time PICA member.
During El Salvador’s civil war (1980-1992) government bombs and paramilitary death squads forced villagers to flee their homes. Many Salvadorans became refugees in their own land. Others fled to Honduras. After a few years, many of the families from Carasque courageously decided to return home. The risks were great, but they were determined to rebuild their town and to sustain one another as a community. Sistering meant physical accompaniment, through the presence of North Americans – and this connection with us significantly increased the safety of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters during that dangerous time.
Most of Carasque’s inhabitants survived the 12 years of war to witness the peace accords signed in 1992. Today they still struggle to meet basic needs. The physical violence of war has given way to the economic violence of a “trickle up” economic system that exploits the world’s poor to enrich the wealthy.
Rural poverty and the promise of jobs in the city lure many away from home, but the available jobs are not good ones. The government model for economic development is based on export production and Free Trade Zone development. Free Trade Zones, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed security guards, guarantee an exploitable labor market for wealthy transnational corporations. With no viable economic options in El Salvador, many Carasqueños now risk the physical perils and family hardships of illegal immigration to the U.S.
Today sistering means working together to fight the threats to our communities, both north and south, and to build social and economic alternatives. Working together on projects large and small has helped us understand that we can’t address the problems of forced economic immigration without dealing with the free trade system, and we can’t protect Maine communities and workers from the ravages of free trade without working for the rights of immigrants. We are truly all in it together. To learn more, watch our video: Immigration Realities.
Other issues we have addressed in North-South solidarity:
- Mining as a threat to healthy communities
- Proposed damming that would displace existing communities
- Gang warfare and protection of our children
We are one of the leading organizations in U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities, a network of about 20 pairs of sistered communities throughout the U.S. In Maine, WERU Community Radio and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) also sponsor El Salvador-U.S. Sister City projects.