AURORA | Aurora’s City Council allowed a proposal naming Chihuahua as their newest sister city to move forward Monday despite some lawmakers expressing concerns about cartel violence south of Mexico border.
Aurora has sister cities currently in Adama, Ethiopia, and Seongnam, South Korea. The relationship is meant to encourage cultural and economic exchange, and sponsors of the proposal mentioned Chihuahua’s robust manufacturing sector and young workforce as reasons why Americans choose to do business there.
But it was the ongoing turf war between Mexico’s drug cartels that turned two council conservatives against the proposal.
Councilmember Francoise Bergan mentioned cartel terror tactics such as beheadings and kidnappings at Monday’s council meeting, while Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky read information from a website about the risks of traveling through northern Mexico.
“Thank God, as of right now, we don’t live under cartel rule here in Aurora,” Jurinsky said. “I’m very alarmed by all of this, and I think that my colleagues should be as well. If you’re willing to overlook the crime rate there, and you want to make us a sister city, are you willing to overlook our crime rate here?”
Chihuahua is the capital of the Mexican state of the same name bordering Texas and New Mexico. Once the base of revolutionary Pancho Villa, the city was established as San Felipe de Real in 1709 on the lands of the indigenous Tarahumara people. Over the centuries, it has grown into one of Mexico’s most economically competitive cities.
But like other cities in the region, it has been caught in the crossfire of cartel violence. A recent report by the Institute for Economics & Peace classified the state of Chihuahua’s homicide rate as “extreme,” meaning the state experienced more than 48.9 homicides per 100,000 people in 2021.
Colorado saw 6.3 homicides per 100,000 people during that time, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The Mexican federal government blames much of their nation’s violent crime on its drug gangs.
Councilmember Juan Marcano, who sponsored the sister city proposal, questioned why Chihuahua’s struggle against violence was relevant and said the concerns raised by conservatives were “exceptionally racist.”
“I’m having a really hard time trying to follow the logic you all are laying down here,” Marcano says. “A sister city relationship is not a conduit for any of this negative stuff that you all are wanting to focus on. … I’m really disappointed by some of the very weird things that were just said.”
Bergan replied that she did not think talking about crime was racist and noted that, in the past, the city had sent the mayor and council members to cities considered for sister city status. Jurinsky responded to Marcano’s accusation of racism by saying that she “employs people of all different backgrounds and cultures.”
Bergan also said she was unsure how much of an economic impact Aurora’s sister city relationships actually have. Karlyn Shorb, executive director of Aurora Sister Cities International, said her organization’s Korea committee was having an “incredible” impact, bringing small businesses to Korea as well as Korean restaurant chains to Aurora.
Shorb said Chicago’s relationship with Mexico City led to intercity trade agreements and said she thought a relationship with Chihuahua could generate a significant economic benefit for the city, even as she described the impacts of sister cities as “long-term.”
Ana Valles, who previously lived in Chihuahua and who co-chairs a committee supporting the sister cities proposal, described it as “a modern and very dynamic city” and said the local government would be able to help with security for any delegation sent by Aurora.
“I’m sure they struggle with their own perceptions of violence as we do here in our own community,” Shorb said of Chihuahua. “We’re going to face those challenges anywhere we travel around the world. That shouldn’t prevent us from creating a friendship. In fact, it should probably encourage it.”
Valles said the majority of Latinos in Aurora are of Mexican descent, a fact supported by U.S. Census Bureau data, and that the majority of Coloradans from Mexico can trace their roots to Chihuahua, information that she said came from the Mexican consulate in Denver.
Only Bergan and Jurinsky expressed opposition to the proposal, meaning it was slated to be voted on formally at a future City Council meeting.