NAPERVILLE, Ill. (STMW) – Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel was working on his Spanish on Friday morning, in his first official meeting over breakfast with Presidente Municipal Antonio Garcia Velazquez of Patzcuaro, Mexico.

“We’ll become amigos,” Pradel said.

On Saturday, the two mayors signed the official registry to make the Patzcuaro and Naperville sister cities.

“This day, the 13th of November, is for us, those of Patzcuaro, a great opportunity to sign this agreement, said Velazquez. “We in Patzcuaro feel delighted.”

Pradel echoed those sentiments in his remarks on behalf of Naperville.

“This is an exceptional day, because we made new friends,” he said. “We look forward to many, many great days of working together.”

For the people of Patzcuaro, though, trading is ingrained in cultural tradition.

“Trade between people,” said Patzcuaro Alderman Mariano Rivas Segundo, “this is a very old tradition.”

Segundo was one of eight delegates from the city, which is in the state of Michoacan, about halfway between Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City.

Among the delegation were Mayor Velazquez, called the municipal president, his wife, aldermen and representatives of the city’s cultural ministry.

And while the two cities are hoping to build strong ties economically and culturally — something less practical to accomplish with Naperville’s other sister city, Nitra, Slovakia, 4,600 miles away — representatives from the Sister Cities Commission said they were surprised to find how close the two cities already are. “When we were down there I met a woman, and her husband, both doctors in public health, from Naperville,” said Sami Siddiqi. “So the ties are already strong. I was very surprised.”

Naperville’s delegation traveled to Patzcuaro last year in October.

“Patzcuaro was selected after extensive study by the Naperville Sister Cities Commission,” said Siddiqi. “The hospitality was great, the food was great, and we enjoyed every moment we stayed there.”

Patzcuaro was chosen over three other contenders. Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, in France, had its picturesque wine country. Nagpur, in the exact center of India, is a political hub, and supporters of Wujiang, Suzhou, China, lauded its recent economic boom.

But it was the proximity of being our southern neighbor that may have given Patzcuaro an edge. A short five-hour plane ride means the two cities will be able to share in business partnerships and student exchanges.

The city’s rich cultural heritage — the state of Michoacan is called “the soul of Mexico — also contributed to the selection, and was a main talking point over the delegation’s welcome breakfast.

“There are different expressions,” said Gabriola Garcia, a representative Patzcuaro’s cultural ministry, “music, painting, sculpture.”

Local crafts that have been passed down over generations since before Spanish conquest are kept alive in the city’s mall, where artists produce their crafts in copper and gold on site.

“Important dates are Day of the Dead and Holy Week,” said Segundo. “Everybody from the surrounding towns gather, and that’s when the artists do the best sales.”

All that makes an interesting experience for Patzcuaro’s main economic driver, tourism.

And while Mexican locales often only make it into American news when gang or drug violence strikes, Patzcuaro’s mayor said Napervillians can throw out that misconception — it doesn’t apply in Patzcuaro.

“It’s a very tranquil city,” said Velazquez.

Patzcuaro’s mayor welcomed Napervillians to his city, promising “to make an attempt to receive you with all the hospitality” shown to the Patzcuaro delegation here, but Naperville residents will also be able to stay home and celebrate the new relationship.

“We have many people working and living in Naperville from Mexico,” said Pradel. “I want to hold a Mexican fiesta right here on the Riverwalk.”

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