Arlington fourth-grader Rachel Barglow, fifth-grader Jackson Dray, and seventh-graders Rafi Barglow and Isabella Dray knew they'd have a very different kind of February vacation this year. With family members, they spent the week in Teosinte, the rural El Salvadoran village that has been Arlington's sister city for 25 years.
In many ways, Teosinte is a different world from Arlington. It's a village of just 300 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers. Scholarships provided by the Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project have enabled some of Teosinte's youth to attend high school and university, and to strive for careers in the city. But day-to-day life in Teosinte retains its rural flavor, revolving around daily walks to the community corn grinder in order to make the dough for tortillas, and punctuated by the sound of roosters rather than traffic.
Yet the bond between these very different communities three thousand miles apart has remained strong. In 1988, during El Salvador's civil war, a group of Arlington citizens concerned about U.S. military intervention in that war led a petition drive to establish the sister city relationship. Arlington became one of just nineteen U.S. communities nationwide that partnered with a Salvadoran village being resettled by war refugees. The partnership became one of both cultural exchange and sustainance for villagers trying to rebuild their lives as war raged on.
Since the Peace Accords in 1992, the sister city relationship has evolved to include a fourth grade curriculum that Isabella, Rafi, Jackson and Rachel have all studied. Rachel says that it was “really cool to read letters from kids in Teosinte.” But learning about a faraway place in an Arlington classroom is not like being there. Although many adults from Arlington have visited Teosinte over the years, this February's trip was the first time kids came along.
And differences can be daunting. “They speak a different language and don't have the same technology or as much money as we do,” said seventh-grader Isabella. “I really didn't know if I'd make friends,” added fourth-grader Rachel.