By Brent Andrews
My Kentucky Kitchen Table project provided me a way to feel more connected to Bowling Green and get closer to a few of my peers, as well as fellow citizens. For our project, Hillary, Rachel, and I went over to Jennifer’s house for dinner. I also brought a friend, named Tan, who is from Vietnam and is studying at WKU. Our conversation lasted for about three hours and felt unexpectedly natural. No conversation topic felt like it was off limits.
My partners for this project were phenomenal. When you first meet Hillary, you know that above all, she cares. She cares about how you are and what you believe in. She is naturally inquisitive and passionate. Her love for art and beauty is apparent in the way she lives and it rubs off on the people that she meets. Rachel, an English literature major, has a way with words and her humor is not only witty, but it is insightful as well. She tells a story of love and she preaches equality by her actions. Jennifer is a compassionate soul who lives intentionally and spends her time doing what she loves, which is pouring into the lives of immigrants and Refugees in the greater Bowling Green area. She is a mother, a wife, and a devoted member of society. She asks deep questions and listens with intention. She loves others with few bounds and is an inspiration to many. Tan is an inquisitive and passionate man. His self-prescribed nickname, “Crazy,” fits him well only because he is willing to take big risks and is able to overcome his fears very quickly. Tan has enjoyed the United States very much and hopes to get a business degree in order to start his own business when he returns to Vietnam.
Our conversation went down many different paths. We began by answering what we thought it meant to be a citizen. Generally, we all agreed that being a good citizen means being involved with as many different types of people and groups as possible. As citizens, it is our job not to run away when things get hard. We are supposed to join together and use our voice to support our beliefs and lift other people up. I really liked Jennifer’s perspective on her life as a citizen because she focused on ways that she sees herself training her two boys on how to be good people and citizens. She also mentioned that being around like-minded people can be a good place to brainstorm, but, in the end, it is better to put yourself out into the world in order to gain a bigger perspective on what it means to live well with others.
We also talked about the role that loving people plays in being a bigger part of society. We mentioned many simple acts, like being kind to a cashier or being patient at the DMV that go a long way. We all tell a story with the way we live our lives and it is important that that story builds other people up and recognizes everyone’s humanity. We decided that it is important to be humble and recognize that we will never know anyone’s full story. For example, we don’t know what it is like to be born into a country that has been in civil war for over eighty years. We don’t understand the hate that many immigrants and refugees face. So, rather than letting those differences scare us, it is important to face them fiercely and fight for equity.
I learned a lot from our conversation, but I would say that my biggest takeaway was that it is important for me to meet people who are starkly different from me and be in community with them. I have so much to learn from other people, and I will never be done learning. We talked a lot about how having a face to put to an issue can be powerful for a lot of people. For example, if you have a friend that is a refugee or immigrant, you will naturally want to support laws and legislation that will protect their rights. I also think that I have a responsibility to make sure that more people reach out into the community to make those sorts of personal connection with people who are different from them.
I also learned from Tan as I watched him interact with the difficult and theoretical conversations we were having. While he didn’t understand all of what we were saying, or why we were saying it, he knew it meant a lot to us and he respected that very much. I was humbled by his willingness to want to learn about other cultures and hear about how people see things like the recent election or holidays. I learned from him that listening is a gift and taking a risk in order connect with people is always worth it, at least for the experience.
I think that our dinner and this project relate to our class in a few ways. Primarily, I saw that most of our conversation had to do with the idea of a crossing a bridge. We talked about how things are and where we want them to be, but most importantly, ways we thought we could get there. For example, we talked about how communities often respond to tragedy by throwing money and resources at a given problem. This raises issues because it leaves people disconnected and removed from the deeper causes that might be contributing the problems. We decided we wanted communities to be more involved so that when something happens, people know the needs of the victims they are helping and have an idea what their life is like prior to whatever incident might take place. Additionally, we mentioned that people have to become more connected with others who are different from them, spend time in the community, and break down stereotypes. This seems like a lot to ask, but it has to happen for us to be able to move forward as a society. I think that another way our conversation connected to the course was that we talked about how the power of patience is necessary to solve all of the issues we wanted to tackle. It was evident that Jennifer is an extremely patient person and her loves shine through in that way. She will wait on the phone for translators and lawyers to make sure that her friends, many of whom are refugees, aren’t getting taken advantage of and are getting the care and support they deserve. Even during out meal, she was checking up on a friend who was in the hospital for having an appendix removed. I think that, through her, I see how being patient is an act of love, and love makes us the best citizens that we can be. Overall, the experience allowed me to understand the importance of talking about change with people in the community because it made me feel like I had more people on my team and are willing to fight alongside me for what we believe is right.