When the world rallied around stricken Japan after the tragic earthquake and nuclear plant quandary, Cupertino residents in its sister city of Toyokawa, Japan.
Luckily, Cupertino’s sister city was largely unaffected by the events of that fateful March disaster, but it hasn’t left the hearts of those who are emotionally connected to Japan through Cupertino’s sister city program.
For the past five years, Asif Kausar, 47, a Cupertino resident and now president of the Toyokawa program, has volunteered for the program, serving as both a delegate and host. Here, Kausar answers our questions about our sister city and the program itself.
1. Can you give a brief overview of the sister city program?
The program started about 35 years ago, and it has been going on—I think the first four years we had Toyokawa delegates coming here, and after that we have been sending delegates from Cupertino to Toyokawa every year. We do a few events in Cupertino for the city. Every year we send 12 students from Cupertino to Toyokawa, and every year we put on the , and every year we get Toyokawa students that come here. Additionally, every five years, we send adult delegates to Toyokawa.
2. Describe your role as president of the Sister City Program.
As president, I oversee the Cherry Blossom Festival, I coordinate with the city and help with the delegates. We also did a fundraiser for the hurricane and tsunami this year, and we raised about $28,500. That was a combination of donations from the city and from citizens of Cupertino. We also got huge donations from schools in the area as well, which we sent to the affected areas in Toyokawa.
3. What activities do the delegates partake in when they come here, and vice versa?
It’s a cultural exchange program—we want to expose the delegates from Toyokawa to the culture here, and the same goes for the delegates who travel there. The delegates visit each other’s schools, and the families for the delegates then take them around—each individual delegate has different things they want to see and visit, so everyone’s experience is unique.
4. How many people in Cupertino work on the sister city program?
It’s a fully volunteer-based organization, and we have 25 people who work on the sister city team. However, the delegates themselves are chosen through an application process, and we encourage all of the schools to participate, to advertise the programs in their newspapers. When our delegates go to Toyokawa, they stay in the homes of the Toyokawa delegates, who will stay with the families of the Cupertino delegates. So it really becomes a reciprocal exchange.
5. How did you become involved in the program?
I was part of a similar program when I was younger, and when my son was in middle school, he got involved in the Toyokawa Sister City Program. Ever since then, I’ve been volunteering for the program—I’ve been working with it for five years now.
6. What makes Toyokawa a good fit for Cupertino?
They’re similar in terms of size—it’s very comparable to the size of Cupertino. It’s definitely not a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco or San Jose. [Toyokawa] is also very hospitable. … I’ve been there myself as an adult delegate, and they were very welcoming and did a great job of really showing us what the city was about.
7. How does having a sister city benefit both communities?
It brings more awareness of the Japanese culture to Cupertino, and for Toyokawa residents, it takes away any stereotypes they might have of America. Cupertino is a piece of a bigger America, and it shows a multicultural, diverse part of the country. It does give Toyokawa residents a different, more multicultural view of America, which is a great thing.
8. If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be and why?
Ideally, we’d love to have more delegates come here, and we’d want to send more than 12 delegates at a time to Toyokawa. We’d also like to increase the amount of time that the delegates can visit, both in Toyokawa and Cupertino, but that comes with its own set of logistical problems that we have to be cognizant of.
9. What’s your favorite thing about the sister city program?
It’s definitely the cultural interactions with the kids and with the adult delegates. We have hosted both kids and adult delegates, and you develop long-term relationships with the people you meet. I still exchange emails and phone calls with some of the people I’ve met—the lasting relationships are my favorite part.
10. What is one last thing the citizens of Cupertino should know about the program?
I would like to say that if your child is in the seventh or eighth grade, come join us; we’re always looking for more participants and volunteers. If we could get more people to participate in the community, that would be great.
If you would like to get involved in the Toyokawa Sister City Program, email Asif Kausar at firstname.lastname@example.org for meeting locations and times.