Each visit grows connections of Montevideo to Montevideo
MONTEVIDEO -- A visiting group of students from Uruguay recently had the opportunity to witness everything from the bluster of politics in Washington, D.C., to the blitz of consumerism at the Mall of America.
They liked best the discussion they joined just over 100 miles west in Montevideo.
Their host in Montevideo said they told him: "When we got here, we saw the real America that shared our values and our world views.''
Patrick and Mary Moore heard it from the students while visiting Montevideo, Uruguay, in August.
Robin Mathewman, interim U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, reunited the students and the Moores at her residence. She wanted to show what came of their visit to the U.S.
After all that they saw in the U.S., the Uruguayan students were inspired most by the environmental stewardship they discovered at the Clean Up our River Environment office that Patrick Moore leads in downtown Montevideo. The students have since won attention in their home country for a campaign to promote recycling and environmental awareness.
Now it's Mary and Patrick Moore's turn. They want to build awareness about the unique relationship between the only two cities in the world named Montevideo, and make possible more exchanges like this one.
Patrick Moore serves on the Minnesota Uruguay Partners board of directors, which along with the U.S. Embassy sponsored their 11-day visit to Uruguay.
The non-partisan Partners of the Americas fosters relationships between countries in the two hemispheres.
The ties between Montevideo, Minn., and its sister city in Uruguay can be dated back to an exchange of flags in 1905.
The highlight of the relationship came in 1949 when schoolchildren in Montevideo, Uruguay, collected their pennies and had an 11-foot statue of Jose Artigas cast in bronze and shipped more than 5,000 miles to Montevideo.
Today, the western Minnesota community is also home to the largest collection of Uruguayan art and memorabilia in the U.S.
The benefits of reviving the relationship between the two cities are many, according to the Moores. They pointed out the opportunities for Minnesota students to immerse themselves in the Spanish language and a South American culture in a very safe and welcoming country. "I can't tell you how ready they are for us to come,'' said Patrick Moore during a presentation he and his wife hosted in the Chippewa County-Montevideo Library on Sept. 15.
Despite the obvious differences in language, geography and climate, the Moores said they couldn't help but notice the great similarities between Uruguay and western Minnesota. Uruguay is very much an agrarian country, with beef and wool among its chief exports.
The Moores said Uruguay and western Minnesota are both the "Rodney Dangerfields'' of their respective corners of the world: They get no respect.
Uruguay boasts a well-educated population, a large middle class, and enjoys a vibrant economy, said the couple. Yet it is overshadowed by its big neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, no differently than western Minnesota is upstaged by the Twin Cities.
And like much of rural Minnesota, Uruguay is concerned about the steady export of its youth to economic opportunities elsewhere; an aging population; and the inequalities in living standards and opportunities between rural and urban areas.
They also discovered there are many existing connections between the two countries. Perhaps none was as surprising as the Minnesota Vikings bumper sticker they found when arriving at La Salamora, a resort for birders tucked away in the hills northeast of Montevideo, Uruguay. Proprietor Alicia Morales had spent a year in Bloomington as an exchange student.
Now, she's working to reintroduce wild birds confiscated from poachers into their natural environments. The Moores are connecting her with the Raptor Center in Minnesota, which has lots of experience doing exactly that.