(I had to be the photographer, so I am not in the picture.)
My Kentucky Kitchen Table meal took place at my home in Alvaton, Kentucky, a small community just outside of Bowling Green in Warren County. Overall, there were seven people at my meal, each of whom brought interesting experiences had a unique perspective on the questions we discussed while eating. I had immediate family, extended family, and an old friend from another university who I had not connected with in quite a while at my meal. My name is Skyler, and I am a sophomore at Western Kentucky University. I am majoring in biology and agriculture, with minors in land surveying and GIS. In addition to my studies, I work as a supervisor at an elementary after school program in the Bowling Green area. I also farm livestock of all sorts and raise a large garden alongside my father. Being a rather inexperienced chef, I picked up canned cranberry sauce and rolls for the meal. My father, Miles, is an auctioneer as well as a cattle farmer. He has spent his life on the farm, growing up working in his father’s slaughterhouse and raising livestock and crops, and now raising cattle himself as well as working as an auctioneer selling cattle auctions on a weekly basis and hosting other types of auctions from time to time throughout the year. We decided to have a Thanksgiving-like meal for this occasion, and Miles was responsible for cooking turkey as well as using his family recipe for dressing, something he particularly enjoys doing. My mother Tracie was also a part of the meal, and had some especially strong opinions and experiences on some of our discussions due to the 25 years she has spent as an elementary school teacher in Bowling Green. Tracie takes a lot of pride and joy in her role as a teacher. A self-proclaimed “city girl,” she does not always see eye to eye with my father and I on issues concerning our farm and other things of that nature. Tracie supplied vegetables for the meal, such as corn and green beans. Another participant in the meal out of my immediate family was Hayla, my nine-year-old little sister who is currently in fourth grade. Hayla was adopted by family out of foster care when she was a baby, and has been a perfect fit ever since. Hayla has a brilliant mind and strong views on the world for her age, and her contributions to the discussion were very valuable and interesting. She is a little actress, having been in over fifteen plays since she was five years old. This includes a recent starring role in the play adaptation of Pocahontas, where she played the lead role of Pocahontas herself. Her experiences with kids and adults of all ages and backgrounds in her theater community has led her to branch out and hold some very interesting views on life that differ quite a bit from my own. With the help of our mother, she made a cake for our dessert.
My grandparents came up all the way from Florida for this meal. They are permanent residents of the sunshine state now that they are retired, and we do not get to see them very much anymore. My grandmother, Jennifer, is my mother’s mother. She retired from WKU as an employee of the Preston Center, and worked many other jobs throughout her career. My grandfather, Bobby, is a retired electrician who worked for others and ran his own company. He is now an avid golfer and fisherman, taking advantage of the warm Florida weather. They are both strong conservatives with heavy interest in politics, which differs quite a bit from my immediate family who are much more moderate. Finally, my friend from the University of Kentucky, Kirsten, came down for the meal. Kirsten is an old friend of mine from high school, as well as a neighbor who lives somewhat close by. I have hardly talked to since going to college nearly two full years ago, as she lives year around in Lexington now. She is a sophomore and a member of the Delta Gamma sorority at UK, and is an avid football fan. She is originally from Nashville, TN, and she has traveled throughout much of the country with her dad, who works selling apparel at sporting events and many other various things. She is a business and marketing major at UK, and her experiences and views on things are quite different from anything my family has. She brought another very unique perspective to the dinner table. Her college experience has been vastly different from mine as well. Kirsten brought an excellent hashbrown casserole to the meal. I had another guest set to attend, a student of mine in the after school program who came to America from Vietnam a bit over two years ago, however he fell ill and was unable to attend.
We had some great discussion throughout our meal, beginning with one main question: “What does citizenship mean to you?” Each person at the table had an answer for this, and they all varied quite a bit. My grandparents Bobby and Jennifer felt that citizenship leaned more towards the political side of things, including exercising your rights that are granted by the Constitution in America. Bobby, a gun collector, emphasized that he felt his right to bear arms was one of many rights that played a big part in his definition of citizenship. Jennifer was also quick to mention that while these rights are a huge part of citizenship to her, they must not be abused and misused. Peace and equality were two factors that they both said should play into our rights, and while they admitted these two things were not where they felt they should be in today’s world, they did not back down from the importance they placed on their own rights. Bobby added that without the rights he has here in America, he would be rather move abroad because Constitutional rights are what makes being a citizen in this country better than others. My mother Tracie took on a different perspective, instead choosing to emphasize her role as a teacher to model her definition of citizenship. Tracie feels that being a citizen includes doing what you can to take care of others, and to be a positive role model for all and be kind to others. She mentioned how she views her role as a teacher as a way to make a positive impact on kids that could perhaps last a lifetime, and she feels she is doing her duty as a citizen by being there for her students each and every day. My father Miles, a quiet individual despite his occupation of auctioneering, did not say much, however he added that he felt sticking to your word and being honest, as well as helping out others in need is a big part of citizenship. He said that being there for our neighbors for little things like there cattle getting out while they’re on vacation as well as for the big things, like taking over their farm operations as they recover from a heart attack, is a big part of being a citizen. I personally feel the same way, and I added to his definition by emphasizing my passion for helping others as a part of what citizenship means to me. Being there for whoever needs me, and helping even strangers, makes me happy and it’s something that I try to do every day of my life. My little sister Hayla had a lot to say about this question, and while a lot of it was rambling and her wild imagination, she did say that citizenship to her meant getting along with everyone and treating them well, no matter how different they were from you. She attributed this to her acting director, who instills this value in them on a daily basis. Kirsten also had a slightly different take on the matter. She leaned more towards the political side of things as well, however she has more liberal views in comparison to my grandparents. She stated that being a citizen meant having your rights, but also having the right to feel safe. She challenged Bobby on his gun stance, and they had a peaceful and fascinating discussion on the subject. If everyone deliberated the subject the way they did, perhaps some solutions could be reached that could appeal to everyone.
While that question was the main topic of discussion, we also went into how religion plays a part in our lives. My immediate family and I are strong Christians, and this plays a huge part in how we live our daily lives and how we see our roles as citizens. Bobby, Jennifer, and Kirsten on the other hand are Christians, but they do not regularly attend church and they do not really practice the religion to a very great extent. We had a great discussion about our faiths, as well as other faiths that we encounter on a near daily basis. We came to a general conclusion that religion has always played s a big part in people’s lives, and it will for a long time to come. We also discussed many other questions related to citizenship and our own views on life in general. I learned a lot about everyone, and was surprised to learn a lot of previously unknown stuff about my own parents and little sister!
One topic we did address that had some intense conflicting views was immigration. Bobby and Jennifer, as well as my father Miles and friend Kirsten, felt that immigration is a huge problem in America that needs to be stopped. Bobby felt especially strong about tightening down on immigration. My mother Tracie and I work in a local elementary school with kids from over thirty different countries, and the experiences they’ve had are shocking and at times disturbing. We have met children who have ran from war, who have been shot at and had their homes destroyed. We have met children of all backgrounds. These experiences have given us a completely different view on immigration. I pointed to a book, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I detailed how these people in the book ran from such horrible terrors in their home country, only to find hostility and danger in supposed safe places as well. I have seen firsthand that this happens every day in real life, and those people are right here in my own city, in a school that I work at each and every day. At one point in the book, the characters are being threatened by military in London, after having already run from war at home. I detailed this part to the rest of the table, telling them that these people are here in our country, and instead of being hostile towards them, we should accept them and help them however we possibly can. I do this by donating food to the pantry at the elementary school I work at, and mentoring the kids who have immigrated. Tracie does the same each and every day. I told the others at the table that by accepting these people, we can live better together, just as we have discussed in Citizen and Self class. Hostility towards them does nothing in my opinion. They have already been through things we cannot imagine, so we must help them I believe. I think that may have swayed the others at my table to believe this as well, or at least I hope that I did.
Overall, this was a wonderful experience. It’s not often that you get to sit down and have these meaningful discussions in today’s world. If people could do this more, and deliberate more peacefully, I believe the world might be in much better standing today. I have learned that conflicting views can coexist peacefully, and that discussion and deliberation is perhaps the ultimate tool we have at our disposal for this.