This past Saturday, I had the privilege of going home to Hebron, Kentucky for the weekend and spending quality time with family and friends. The experience was extremely culturally enriching and intriguing. There were eight adults at the table including myself, my boyfriend of 2 years (Matt), and my parents (Herbie and Wendy). Although my family was there, the focus was on our guests and getting to know more about them, so I will limit my conversation mostly to them. One of the couples that joined us have been our close family friends for years. We met them through my brother’s baseball team where my father was able to coach their sons. Josh and Anne-Karina have been a blessing to us ever since. We have even had a few similar dinners with them at their own kitchen table in Covington, KY. The other couple was introduced to my family though my father’s work. Pedro has been an instrumental part of my dad’s construction “family” since we moved to Northern Kentucky. He has been a loyal foreman to my dad and an even more loyal friend. Peg, Pedro’s newly wedded wife, is also an instrumental part of my father’s work. She and Pedro met through their jobs, fell in love, and are now happily married. This was the first time I had the pleasure of making Peg’s acquaintance, although I had met Pedro a few times before.
Time spent with close friends and family is always a wonderful experience, but what made this dinner so special was the diversity around the table. Anne-Karina is originally from Austria and a native German speaker. She was drawn to America when she was offered a job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as a pulmonary research biologist. She met Josh here in America and together they have two children. Josh works in IT and was born and raised in Kentucky. Pedro was born in Fresno, California but moved back to Mexico, where most of his family still resides, shortly after he was born. When he was a teenager, he joined the U.S. Navy and took up boxing as a pass-time. He is still undefeated to this day. Peg is originally from San Fransisco and has never left the country, although she wishes to visit the land Pedro inherited in Mexico soon. Because everyone at the table has a different ethnic background, we asked each person to bring a dish that reflects their own heritage. My family made chicken and dumplings, a southern favorite; Anne-Karina and Josh brought Schnitzel with Austrian clove rice; and Pedro and Peg brought authentic enchiladas and tamales with Spanish rice and pico de gallo.
The meal was fantastic, but the conversations we had were even better. With different ethnic and cultural backgrounds comes different opinions on various matters. When asked what citizenship meant to each of them, the responses were extremely varied. Anne-Karina was the first to pipe up. She revealed that she does not have citizenship here in America, but she is a citizen of Austria and will remain so for the rest of her days. She has considered dual citizenship but “does not identify as an American” enough to go through the complex and time-consuming process. Although she is happy remaining an Austrian citizen exclusively, she still wishes she were able to vote. With only her green-card, she is taxed, but not represented, which troubles her greatly. Anne-Karina believes that voting is a responsibility, not a choice, if we are to be proper citizens. Because of this, she still votes for political titles in Austria even though she no longer resides there. Conversely, Peg strongly dislikes politics and believes that all politicians are crooked. She does not exercise her right to vote and claims “she should be ashamed of herself” for not taking advantage of this right, but maintains that she could not have a clear conscience voting for a person she does not believe is fit for office. Peg also acknowledges that since she does not vote, she has no right to complain about policies set in place by government officials. She abides by the laws set in place and does not complain when things are not going her way in a political sense. Pedro does not vote either, but for a different reason than Peg. He is an American citizen but feels connected to Mexico just as Anne-Karina is connected to Austria. He abides by the laws of America but does not want anything to do with American politics. Josh was somewhere in the middle of these extremes. He is an American citizen who votes regularly, but is not overly-involved in politics.
There were also differences in opinion on social issues. We happened upon this issue after talking politics. Anne-Karina was the first to talk on her pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control opinions. She believes that a woman should be able to make the choice about her own body without government influence. Much of my family is very pro-life and conservative. Although we did not necessarily agree with her opinion on this issue, we were intrigued to hear a new viewpoint of this topic and understood how she could arrive at this opinion. This relates to what we have said in class about morality and opinion. We must be able to understand multiple viewpoints before we are able to reach our own educated decisions about topics. Although Pedro and Peg did not seem to have too much of an opinion on Anne-Karina’s pro-choice discussion, they did have something to say about gun control. Anne-Karina’s background in Europe has much to do with her pro-gun control stance. She explained that not many people in Europe have guns simply because they are under such high control and she believes that is why there are less mass shootings in Europe than in America. Pedro countered that with respect to his rough-around-the-edges childhood. He said that guns are a way to protect your own and maintain safety in America. Matt agreed with Pedro, saying that guns are so deeply rooted in our nation’s culture that even if we did control guns, people who wanted to use them for evil would still obtain them and good people would be left unprotected.
This experience was an extremely interesting one to say the least. The different viewpoints at the table brought so much enlightenment to me and my family. No one in my family has been outside of the United States and it was so interesting to see how people from different cultures view the world. It was very easy to see from this Kentucky Kitchen Table that Jonathan Haidt was right in his essay The Righteous Mind. The “elephants” of our friends were extremely prevalent, more so than their “riders”. Many of the beliefs expressed by the individuals at the table were due to past and cultural experience. Also, it is evident that not every issue has a “right and wrong” answer and that many are much more complex than that. We often assume our opinion is right simply because we are the one that reasoned it and deemed it to be morally acceptable. When listening to opinions that differed from my own however, my mind was opened to the possibility of other answers to difficult questions. From this dinner, I learned that it is important to listen to all sides of the story before passing judgement. We must be tolerant of others and give everyone a chance to express their opinions in a free and trusting environment so that we can have meaningful and insightful conversations about the world we live in.