Kentucky Kitchen Table Cast and Crew
Kelly- A transfer from Simpson College and sophomore member of the WKU Forensics team. I’ve known her about a month now but we’re not that close.
Austin- My roommate, he is originally from California and is also a member of the Chinese Flagship. I’ve been friends with him since high school.
James- A 26-year-old from California, another transfer student who is a senior here at WKU. James wants to be a speech and debate coach after he graduates and gets his masters degree. He thinks that coaching students to be policymakers will help improve decision-making at all levels of government. The reasons he articulated lined up very nicely with ideas we discuss in class surrounding deliberative democracy. I’ve known him a year.
Abby- an ASL teaching assistant from Texas who is dating James. She’s very active in Baptist Campus Ministries and along with James is very religious. I had never met her before.
Myself- Well, you know me.
There was a debate about what the meaning of citizenship was. Most of the debate was based around playing a role in the community outside the government. I talked about how important it is that when abroad you act as a citizen ambassador, specifically as a means of playing the role of American citizen outside the relevant government agencies such as the State Department or Central Intelligence Agency. They don’t want foreign governments targeting you after all. This means being willing to volunteer in foreign countries through little things like spending time with elderly people or introducing children to foreign cultures. James articulated the general understanding of what being a citizen means, specifically with regard to the social contract. He articulated the premise that being a citizen implies that we accept the government’s monopoly on violence and in return we get to feel safe. However, he took it one step further and said that it was more than just about accepting that we can’t take violence into our own hands, he further explained that when the government fails to use that monopoly on power to hold up their end of the bargain, that charges us with the responsibility to pick up the slack. He’s a big fan of Batman and made that pretty clear. In essence, we have to go out and protest abuses of government power and also volunteer where the government isn’t providing. James didn’t have the poetry of Claudia Rankine, but articulated how important it is that as citizens we recognize our privilege in all instances so as to avoid the small moments of racism, whether from ourselves or police officers. After wading through all the references to philosopher’s whose names we didn’t know, we all pretty much agreed with how James saw being a citizen, even if some of us had more faith in working through the government for structural change. Austin has already taken Citizen and Self, so he agreed that citizenship is a function of personal agency outside the realm of government action but added that it’s important to not just focus on what you can do but rather what you can convince people to do together.
We talked a lot about how everyone felt about Kentucky. None of us were originally from Kentucky, and each of us moved here at different stages in our lives. Kelly has just moved to Bowling Green from Iowa and hearing her describe what she thought of her new home was pretty interesting. Obviously, she has been pretty busy with school, but she’s acclimating to Kentucky culture pretty well. She finds that there is a lot more blatant sexism on campus than she found in other places she has lived. So we discussed how that has impacted the shift to Kentucky. She also made it pretty obvious that she wasn’t just letting those issues go either, which means that she’s probably got this Citizen and Self thing on lock. She hasn’t had a hot brown yet, a fact we all teased her about, but that’s alright. Abby had a fairly easy time transitioning to Kentucky, she and I are from more rural backgrounds than the others, and laughed about how much we hate wearing shoes during the summer- a fact that the others made fun of us for. James lamented how much he disliked Kentucky, complaints that Austin chimed in on as he was originally from California himself despite having moved to Kentucky at a young age. Sure, it isn’t the most exciting place and there is a lot of racism that all of us find problematic, but we all enjoy living here and racism is a problem everywhere not just the South. We also discussed how I went about making the main entrée and dessert for the night. My mother’s secret lasagna recipe (Stouffers) and her tiramisu recipe. Unfortunately, when I was making the Tiramisu the custard didn’t set as perfectly as it does when my momma makes it, but everyone still liked it, or at least were very polite guest. We discussed traditional kitchen gender roles and how odd it is that the perception is that only women cook and how it’s still sexist to think that men deserve bonus points for being good cooks. Yes, it’s a good trait to have, but thinking that it’s any more special than a woman knowing how to cook comes from a sexist notion that we have internalized. Kelly brought salad and some homemade ranch dressing and James and Abby brought sweet tea. Then they teased me over calling garlic Texas toast “garlic bread.” In my house, if it was bread and had garlic on it, it was garlic bread, but apparently they are two different things.
One of the most interesting parts of the activity was the breadth of languages used. Austin and I were able to teach the table some basic Chinese (hello, yes, no, etc.). Moreover, I got to give the group a tour of the house and teach them some cool things about the rules of Chinese dining etiquette. For example, the person who is the most respected in the group sits at the furthest middle seat away from the door. This is so that whoever walks in will see the person in the place of honor first. This seat is often taken up by the oldest patriarch of the family, except in instances of a funeral celebration in which case the youngest boy will sit there and represent the grandfather. We didn’t use chopsticks to eat lasagna or tiramisu, but we did think about it. Furthermore, Abby and James were able to teach the table some basic sign language (yes, no, thank you, etc.). Though many wouldn’t think it, Western Kentucky University is preparing students to interact with a broad range of backgrounds and cultures. I got to talk about my father, who was a teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf for a number of years. Abby, who would be traveling to KSD in the coming weeks, told me that she loves KSD. We were able to discuss this little deli in the middle of Danville, Kentucky and the world became that much smaller. When people think of language in Kentucky’s they usually think of a southern accent or maybe the state’s burgeoning Spanish-speaking population, but Kentucky’s culture is so much broader than that. Myriad languages have found their place in the Commonwealth, something that became all the more clear to me as a result of this project.