A memorial for the victims of the MV Conception boat fire at the Santa Barbara Harbor breakwater. [Image: mliu92 / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Shingu Japan helps Santa Cruz, California honor the victims of the MV Conception Tragedy

Japan

Sister cities play an important role in bringing people of different countries and cultures together in a way that transcends economics and politics. California is home to more sister city relationships with the Indo-Pacific than the rest of the United States combined. California and Japan share 93 sister city relationships, more than another state, and few sister city pairs exemplify the power of these relationships than the exchange between Santa Cruz, California and Shingu, Japan.

The partnership between Shingu and Santa Cruz has existed for over 45 years, and is multifaceted. The two cities have exchanged students, entrepreneurs, knowledge on the challenges which face both, and regularly send delegations to visit each other.

When the mayor of Santa Cruz visited Shingu in October 2019 he was presented with 5,832 paper cranes to memorialize the victims of the MV Conception tragedy. The MV Conception was a live aboard dive boat hosting a scuba diving expedition when it caught fire in the early morning hours of September 2, 2019. The tragedy resulted in the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member. The victims came from as far away as Singapore and India, but many had been residents or connected in some way with the city of Santa Cruz.

Those paper cranes may seem like a small gesture from the people of Shingu, but for the families and friends grieving the loss of their loved ones, knowing strangers across the Pacific were honoring their dead is a gesture that was, and is, priceless.

Today the paper cranes created by the citizens of Shingu will memorialize those lost in the MV Conception disaster, as part of Santa Cruz’s 2021 Día de Muertos festival. Advocacy34, a group representing many of the victims’ families asked people to, “[…]take a moment to view the display and thank the residents of Shingu for their kindness and empathy.”

Shingu’s paper cranes will be displayed at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History ofrenda [a community altar] from November 2 -7, 2021, as part of its Día de Muertos display.

This article is dedicated to the life of Charles McIlvain.

Spencer Gross is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.