Occupying 630 acres within metropolitan Miami, Matheson Hammock Park allows urbanites a respite from the concrete and chaos of big city life. Part of the park looks out over Biscayne Bay, which opens up to the Atlantic Ocean. Nestled among the otherwise nondescript coral rock of the coastline is a bronze plaque dedicated to Miami-Dade’s “sister city” Tenerife, the capital and largest city of the Canary Islands, a region of Spain located off the coast of Morocco.
Established in 2000, the “Tenerife Reflecting Point” faces east towards the Canary Islands’ capital, some 4,200 miles away—a somewhat jolting reminder that Miami is on the same latitude as North Africa.
The idea of “sister cities”, also known as “twin cities”, goes back to at least the ninth century, with the earliest example in the U.S. dating to the 1931 “twinning” between Toledo, Ohio, and Toledo, Spain. Sister city relationships consist of formal arrangements between communities in different countries intended to promote cultural, commercial, and political ties. Nowadays, many of them are created and fostered through “Sister Cities International” (SCI), a nonprofit network created in 1956 at the behest of the Eisenhower administration, which wanted to promote “citizen diplomacy” among local governments (as opposed to “regular diplomacy” conducted by national governments).
Miami-Dade County launched its sister city program in 1981, which is administered by the International Trade Consortium, an office that promotes trade and commercial ties with foreign governments—which is the main impetus for most sister city relationships. The official goal of the program is to “promote international cultural understanding by developing programs that enhance citizen diplomacy, create international goodwill, and support the County’s global trade agenda.”
As of today, Miami-Dade County has relationships with over 30 cities worldwide, from Dakar, Senegal to New Taipei City, Taiwan. The most recent sister city, since April 2022, is Curitiba, Brazil; Miami-Dade trades over $16 billion worth of goods and services with Brazil, the most of any foreign nation.
Beyond potential economic and commercial ties, the sister city relationship with Tenerife is fitting given that many of Cuban-Americans in Miami have roots in the Canary Islands—which might account for the arrangement between these seemingly disparate places.
Setting aside the political, economic, or cultural factors underpinning the Reflecting Point, it offers a fascinating and well-needed opportunity to reflect on one’s literal place in the world: As you look out into the bay and the vast ocean beyond, someone else may very well be doing the same. An entire community as rich, vibrant, and alive as your own is going about its business at the same time. People as real and complex as you are likewise taking a moment to stop their day-to-day routine and reflect on the incalculable number of souls living their lives at the exact same time.
Perhaps it’s a lot to take away from a humble, increasingly illegible plaque. But given the fractious state of the world, it is a well-needed nudge to look out into the world and take in both the natural and human beauty, no matter how far or unseen.