My name is Reuben and I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table in Alvaton, Kentucky. I am grateful for Emma, my wonderful classmate that invited me to be apart of her family’s Easter gathering. I am also grateful for her kind and welcoming family, without them, this script would have never came to be. It was a extraordinary day that gave birth to new mindsets within my brain, new relationships that I dearly treasure, and a chance to befriend a wondrous family whom were so kind, and very much so inspiring.
I have never been to Alvaton before, but the people whom I met during that eventful day has made the name more than memorable. When I first step foot into their humble abode, I noticed their walls comprised of colorful quilts with different patterns and a masterfully made wooden coffee table in the middle of the living room. I had the honor of touring a room filled with relics from both Native American and Egyptian cultures. A room filled with sentimental memories of the past and numerous ornaments on the walls instilled with a sense of treasure less value which only Larry and Norma can grasp.
Being the only stranger at the dinner table, I had trouble memorizing people’s names; however, thanks to Emma, I learned that the people in attendance were Steve, Larry, Norma, Carol, Baker, and Jack. Everyone around the table brought a unique set of experiences and came from different backgrounds. Steve, Emma’s father who shares his daughter’s love of song and theater, a good father as well as an excellent man of character. Larry, Emma’s grandfather who is a retired mechanical engineer who has a hobby for woodworking, his wood shop displaying many of his fine crafts. Larry’s wife Norma, has her own hobby of quilt-making and cooking, she was excellent in both regards, and in my memory I haven’t met anyone who’s made prettier quilts. Auntie Carol – is not Emma’s real aunt – but nevertheless a valuable family friend, she moved here from Hawaii. I listened to her interesting stories about the fishes of Hawaii that tasted far greater than any fish that she has ever found in Kentucky. Along with her adorable dog called Jack, and I’ll genuinely admit, meeting this adorable dog has been the greatest happenstance of my life. Last, but not least, there was Emma and Baker, the kind couple who gave me the opportunity to attend this lunch. Emma, my wonderful classmate who’s studying elementary education and history at Western Kentucky University. Baker, her dear boyfriend who’s studying advertising and graphic design at WKU, whom also has a great sense of humor. Last, but the best, the precious soul that is Jack, a adorable dog that took a instant liking to me, and I to him. The food was superb, a lot of traditional comfort food, and most of all, the conversations were enlightening, impactful, and overall an enjoyable time. I am very grateful for Emma.
We began the discussion with the fundamental required question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you”? The immediate response around the table were puzzled pauses and curious glances. Auntie Carol broke the silence by talking about her Canadian-born friend whom has lived in America for a long time, but she obtained her American citizenship later on. She described that our American citizenship is a privilege that many Americans take for granted by those people who obtained it by being born on U.S. soil. She said “I have always thought of this place as my country, my identity isn’t something I would give up easily.” I think that Auntie Carol has brought up an topic of identity. That our identity is not always defined through our roles, professions, or conflicts. Our identity is who we ARE not we do. Auntie Carol stated that there was something right about being an American, that we should be proud of our history, our ancestors that fought for it, and that we have our freedoms.
Afterwards, we dove into the issue of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program created in 2012 by the Obama administration allowing young people brought to this country illegally by their parents to receive permission to work, study and obtain driver’s licenses. While I am not affected by DACA, I feel bitter for the people who are affected by Trump’s decision to reverse President Obama’s executive action of creating DACA. Baker mentioned his that friend, Husway, was brought illegally into American by his parents when he was young; therefore, he was affected by DACA. He stated that Husway is going to get married soon, and he fears that the situation with DACA will bring worth unwanted complications. I told the family my experiences with international students. I knew that whilst WKU’s student population was over 20,000, the international student population was below 1000, and the numbers have been dwindling as time moves forward. I strived to make the connection between the DACA affectees and the international students, because our country is constantly changing, shifting our many viewpoints and with the new president in the White House, I noticed that less and less international students were coming to WKU for schooling, whereas before he took office the numbers were raising every year. I share my experiences because I have worked with ISO before, International Student Office at WKU, and they tell me that over time that less and less students are coming to WKU, and visas are becoming more difficult to obtain. I shared with the family that international students have an F1 International Student Visa, and they are greatly limited in regards to finding work, applying for scholarships, and many other resources. International students can’t complete the FAFSA form, because they are not citizens, so for many international students, funding their education is one of their greatest challenges in the U.S. As I speaking, Auntie Carol mentioned that Saudi Arabia is undergoing new changes with the new Prince. She also mentioned that Japan is under new educational changes, so that could also affect the population of Japanese students studying abroad. Steve talked about his friend Katar who got into real estate and the Sulocks who are in west Texas. After much sidetracking about education, visas, and internationals, Steve brought us back into the main conversation and asserted that some people think “Citizenry” is just working. He said whether if it’s in retail, restaurant, or factory work, to some Americans, being a working citizen and contributing back to society is their idea of being a citizen. Larry reasserted Auntie Carol’s statement that some people take their citizenship for granted, because even though people are citizens, he worries about the fact that many Americans know so little about their own country. In my humble opinion, I agree with Grandpa Larry, because I realize that there are many people in the U.S. that are not working, but still expect the government to give them money. Programs like medicaid, or other assistance programs are providing for people who refuse to work, and I believe that those people are not good examples of good citizenry.
Later on, I posed the question about whether or not the group trusted the government. I was met with laughter and chuckles around the table. Grandma Norma stated “sometimes”. I asserted to the group that while I do not trust our government, I certainly believe in our country. Steve recalled his story of discussing the idea of “pensions” and how the state legislators in Kentucky has voted to alleviate their budget with teacher pensions. He stated that people are inherently selfish, and that comment resonated with everyone at the table. He described that these “pension” ideas, for example, social security, was created during a time when there was a “need”, that the legislature created a great idea, but it was for them and the people during that time period. However, the younger generation with their respective visions, is far different from the older generation. I remember Auntie Carol stating that while she does not trust the government as a whole entity, you have to look at the individual situation and what’s occurring in the moment. That you can’t listen to “fake” news, and that people have to do some research or investigation of their own, because you can’t completely trust the government.
The theme that I learned was that our government is not always on the same page of the people it serves. For example, Larry said that our social security would be just fine if the government didn’t take money out of the fundings, but the younger generation came in and relocated some of the money for other fundings. I remember Auntie Carol summed it well when she asserted that the government aren’t aware of what small groups or individuals want because they’re far removed from the people that they’re meant to help. Overall, I was ecstatic at our conversation around the table, that everyone had a different opinion and story in regards to citizenship, American values, and our government. I looked around the table, people who felt like strangers, now feel more familiar. I was overjoyed by what conversation and deliberation could bring, I was happy that each person brought their thoughtful opinions, values, and opinions to our conversation, and I learned so much just from listening. I learned so much from the family, and I am sincerely grateful that Emma has brought me to her family’s lunch.
Before the dinner was over, I asked the people around the table if they had faith in humanity. Again, I was met with laughter and chuckles from the group. It was a dramatic question, but I knew it would elicit interesting opinions. I asserted that it’s wrong to live with no faith, because if you have no faith, you don’t believe in others, and my logic is that happiness comes from the people around us, Auntie Carol said that there was faith in everyone, it just depends on how that faith is developed and nurtured. Baker said that everyone is inherently evil, but as people grow up, they change their ways for good, because society influences change in the individual. At the end, unexpectedly, Steve responded with razor wit and said:
“Do you drive?”
“I do drive.”
“I think everyone in here has faith in humanity then.”
I was awed by his undoubtedly high IQ logic. I had learned a great many lessons with this family, and I am indebted to them for giving me their knowledge. I think this can relate to Keith Melville’s “How We Talk Matters”, that deliberation is very different from conventional conversations, and that they require the skills of patience and tolerance. In hindsight, I realized that conversing in my Kentucky Kitchen Table, a successful deliberation requires everyone to be open-minded, be willing to share their opinions, and talking about difference. I learned that disagreement is certainly a positive force, it opens mindsets to different perspectives, and I always believed that the word “different” is not necessary good or bad, it’s just different. In relating my Kentucky Kitchen Table to our central ideas of the class, I would relate it most to “How can we solve problems?” I learned that there isn’t one process to solving a problem, it’s a number of steps, and deliberating and sharing different opinions is one of the fundamental steps to solving problems. We can begin to solve problems by striving understand one another, by reducing the boundaries of our differences to nothingness. The reason to care for another, the amounts of efforts that we put to bridging our gaps, that thought along can make a difference, and I realize that that deliberations may not save the world, but it can make a difference to someone, and by slowing understand that change comes with time and patience, I know then, we can start to solve problems and make the world better.