The election of Donald Trump to the White House has cast a shadow over Palo Alto's relationship with its sister city in Mexico, with a group of more than 30 student dancers from Oaxaca recently canceling their scheduled trip to Palo Alto because of the shifting political landscape.
The group of students from Instituto Blaise Pascale was planning to arrive in Palo Alto in April for a performance of traditional Mexican dance. Known as Grupo Folklorico, the middle school and high school students have performed dances in more than 30 different countries, raising money for Oaxacan charities and philanthropic organizations.
For Neighbors Abroad, the nonprofit that administers the long-standing partnership between Palo Alto and Oaxaca, the cancellation was a disappointing -- if not entirely surprising -- development. Bob Wenzlau, president of Neighbors Abroad of Palo Alto, told the Weekly that the students' parents got together after the Nov. 8 presidential election and decided not to send their children to Palo Alto.
The email notifying Neighbors Abroad of the cancellation cited the "sociological-political situation in the U.S.A." and stated that the parents "don't know what will happen under the new government and are not prepared to risk sending their child." Given the number of cancellations, it is "no longer artistically or logistically possible to undertake this trip."
"We are incredibly saddened to have to notify you of this ... and we would like to thank you for your continual support of the project," the email states, adding that next year the group will consider if a trip in fall of 2017 or spring 2018 will be possible. Even so, the cancellation has dismayed some of the program's longtime members, Wenzlau said.
"This is a charitable organization, it's worked smoothly for years and an interruption like this is unheard of," Wenzlau said. "It's such a motherhood-and-apple-pie program, and now there's a problem with the apple pie."
The cancelled field trip isn't the program's only recent setback. For the past few months, Palo Alto has been considering selling to Oaxaca a fire apparatus called a "quint" (which doubles as an engine and ladder truck). The agreed-upon price was about $25,000, even though the estimated value of the used truck is about $80,000. However, because the amount committed was in pesos, not dollars, and because the value of the peso has dropped by about 15 percent since the election, Oaxaca now has only about $20,000 to offer and the deal may no longer be feasible, Wenzlau said.
While Neighbors Abroad is still hoping that the deal can happen, Palo Alto's own budget challenges are limiting the city's ability to offer any new subsidies. The city faces a projected budget deficit of $4 million to $6 million in the next fiscal year. As a result, city staff has changed its position and is now seeking a contribution of $50,000 for the quint, according to an email that Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez sent to Wenzlau.
City Manager James Keene is seeking a contribution of $50,000 to "justify our procurement of the Wild Land Rescue vehicle still leaving us short approximately $30,000.
"We recognize that this is a significant increase to the offer from our sister city, but given our financial position and the difficult budget decision (ahead) ... we need to close the gap as much as possible," Perez wrote.
Wenzlau noted that these setbacks are coming at the exact time when Neighbors Abroad has been expanding its ambitions. The group is now working to formalize sister-city relationships with the Yangpu District in Shanghai and Heidelberg, Germany.
"I feel this is a time when really, the role of our local government and sister cities should be stronger and not weaker," Wenzlau said.
"This is what's gotten a lot of our membership worked up. We're actually trying to be a stronger sister city recently, and we're finding that harder because of the things going on."