By Amber Madison
My Kentucky Kitchen Table meal took place on Monday, November 12, 2018. Due to a last-minute kitchen mishap at my parent’s house, we had to relocate the meal to our local (and favorite) Puerto Vallarta, about four minutes from our house and still in Bowling Green. There were seven people, including myself, in attendance, two of which were unexpected (but very welcome) guests.
The first guest was my mother, Kay, who grew up in Edmonson County and moved to Bowling Green just before I was born. She is the branch manager of the PNC bank on Fairview and has been in the banking business ever since she was 15 years old. My next guest was my father, Tim, who also lived in Edmonson County, particularly Rocky Hill, until he and my mom moved to Bowling Green. He works at Country Oven Bakery and has to be working on some new project around the house at all times. My next guest is my mom’s coworker, Carla, whom I’ve known most of my life and see every now and then since she and my mother work together. She is very lively and had lots of insight to add to this conversation. Though I have known Carla almost my whole life, I had never met her husband, but he proved to be a very interesting man from an intriguing background. He moved from Mexico twenty-two years ago without a bit of knowledge of the English language. When he arrived in America, he learned English just by watching American television shows and movies, which impressed me greatly, considering how much time and effort that must have taken. He even ordered his food and conversed in Spanish with the waiters and waitresses, most of whom he knows. Puerto Vallarta was his suggestion; fortunately, my parents and I also spend a lot of dinner nights at Puerto’s. After ordering our drinks, we were joined by Carla’s husband’s son, Christian, and his friend, Cain. Christian is 18 years old and is a senior at Warren East High School. He also works at Hollister and says that the idea of deliberating is very interesting to him. Cain is a junior and a football player at Warren East.
After being introduced to and getting acquainted with everyone I had just met and catching up with Carla, I started off the conversation by describing that a deliberation is a discussion about certain issues in order to work through a problem and then asked the required question:
“Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”
After some silence, stares, and careful pondering, the general answer around the table had something to do with representation in a diverse country, freedom to work towards a desired life, and common morals among people. Carla’s husband, having been to a country where these American ideals aren’t as prevalent, added something that put American citizenship into a better perspective for me:
“You don’t have to fear for your life.”
He and his wife explained that in Mexico, you really have to watch out for yourself. Carla added that you can’t even wear jewelry in most parts because you never know if it will be stolen before the end of the day. This reminded me of the Love Thy Neighbor chapters about Bosnian genocide and the horre overseas. I explained to the table that in our class, we have discussed these international affairs in Bosnia and surrounding areas and the overall theme that just because we don’t see the many gruesome details of what goes on in other countries doesn’t mean they don’t happen every single day. It’s also hard to even imagine similar cruelties happening in America because we haven’t experienced anything so harsh before. Carla’s husband agreed, saying that where he came from is nothing similar to how he lives today.
The next question I asked was, “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?”
Carla’s husband said that Bowling Green is a safe place to raise kids and not have to really worry about where they are at all times. We all agreed that although Bowling Green is the third largest city in Bowling Green, it is still fairly safe and hospitable. Southern hospitality was a large topic regarding this question. Carla talked about how she used to work somewhere where she spoke to many Northerners and explained that many of them were condescending and essentially very different socially from the many people she has interacted with from the South. My mom added that you can still go to Kroger and see several familiar faces while shopping, which received many nods all around. Though Bowling Green is growing at a high rate, there is still a small town feel that makes you feel at home no matter where you are from. At this point, my dad, Christian, and Cain were distracted by the football game on the TV screen. Another thing that Carla brought up was the local parks, saying that you don’t have to worry if you’re walking in parks like Keriakes and Covington late at night. She also included that the new additions and cleanliness of the parks are very impressive for how popular they continue to be.
My next and probably favorite question was, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?”
I was compelled to ask this question because I was very curious about everyone’s stance, especially my parents since we don’t discuss politics too often. Carla responded first to this question, stating that racism and hate are so prevalent in today’s world that it seems like they could never go away. My dad re-joined the conversation, quickly agreeing with Carla’s position and adding that even though he disagrees with someone, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be friends. He further explained that everyone has their first amendment right to say and believe whatever they want to, but they can still get along with people who believe differently than them, which is part of the reason that different generations tend not to compromise or see eye to eye on certain issues. Christian added that people have become increasingly sensitive over the years and have lost the ability to disagree and truly be civil about the matter. He also brought up the fact that another issue in America is the divorce rate. About 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and those numbers are still climbing each year, and he would like to see that settle. People have seemed to become more independent and less loyal over the years. Another one of Carla’s close social issues is gun control. She and my father agreed that taking away guns is not the solution to this never-ending problem in America. Carla explained that the problem is the people, and this violent behavior starts at home. She shared an example of how others can be kinder and help end the problem that can ultimately lead to violence: at her son’s track meets, there is always a kid whose parents never showed up and didn’t have enough money to buy gatorade before running. Carla always bought this kid some gatorade because she felt like he needed a supportive influence in his life since he didn’t have one at home. She feels that moments like these at school, at work, and in life in general can change someone’s mindset and make them feel included. My father, being a gun-owner and concealed carrier, agreed again, stating that guns are not the problem and are often put into the wrong hands. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the idea of fighting guns with more guns, but I think we all agreed that background checks should be more strict and in-depth than they are now, which could decrease the chance of those with bad intentions receiving a weapon. After everyone had given their opinions on this question, I ended our deliberation with a final thought: as human beings, we are quick to judge and assume things about other people without knowing their background. No matter your beliefs or opinions about specific social issues or the party with which you identify, we are all citizens and should embrace our freedom to disagree and have different stances.
Before actually hosting and participating in my Kentucky Kitchen Table, the idea of this project was intimidating to me. I am not generally the talkative type and tend to listen more than speak, and the idea of having complete strangers participate in my school project seemed a bit strange and frightening to me. However, I found myself really engaging with this group of people, and I got a new perspective on most of the topics we discussed. I feel that talking about these deep and debatable topics can help you get to know others better than small talk, and I learned something new about every person that I didn’t know before dinner, including my parents. I learned first-hand that deliberations are a great way to keep a conversation civil but still controversial and interesting. We all even agreed that we should do this type of dinner again sometime.