McLain’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place on November 6, 2018, in my parents’ home in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My step-dad, Jody, is seated on the left in the plaid shirt. He is a developer in Bowling Green and owns two small businesses, for one of which I work. Moving clockwise around the table, next is my mom, Anne. She was a teacher for 15 years in Bowling Green, and now has her Real Estate license.  Tiffany, her best friend, is seated next to her. She is wearing an “I voted” sticker because this dinner took place on the day of midterm elections, but I’ll get to that later. Next is Christiaan, but we call him”Bubba.” He sells insurance for Vanmeter Insurance here in town. His wife Anne Marie, and Chapel, one of their three daughters, are sitting next to him. Chapel is a junior at Greenwood Highschool. My sister Emmie is next. She is a senior at Greenwood Highschool and will be attending Transylvania University next year to play volleyball. Next, Landon is a sophomore at WKU from Mayfield, Kentucky studying Finance. My boyfriend Marshall is next to Landon. He is also from Mayfield and is senior at WKU studying Business Economics with a minor in sales. Finally, there is me, but I was taking the picture. I am a sophomore studying Geology at WKU.

Sitting around this table were 10 people who happen to live in the same town right now, but did not all grow up here and some whom do not plan to stay. From highschool students to business men to mothers to college students, these different viewpoints shaped the way the conversation flowed that night, and everyone learned something new. After the food had been served, and we all sat down, I asked the required question: “what does citizenship mean to you?” It took the group a while to really come up with an answer, I think they had voting on the brain because it was election night, but I asked them to think deeper. The overall response was to simply be good people, to act in a way that will better your community rather than create more tension as we tend to see very often with such polarized political groups. This was the first question I asked, and the group answered it in a way more like I was a teacher and they were the students. Almost as if they wanted me to give them a sticker for the right answer. In class and in our deliberations we have learned and practiced guiding a conversation and asking questions to poke at those attending in hopes of getting a real conversation started rather than just answering questions and moving on. So, with this in mind, I moved on to questions I felt they would better relate to or really have an opinion about. 

”Who voted?” I asked. Almost every person at the table said “me” or showed their sticker. Emmie and Chapel are not 18 yet, so they were not able to. Landon, on the other hand, is registered to vote at home, even though he lives in a house in Bowling Green and technically could have registered here. Later on in the evening, he expressed his regret in not voting here or at home. “I couldn’t go home today, because I had class, but I guess I could have sent an absentee ballot. I probably just should have registered and voted here. I feel kind of bad about it.” he told me. Those who did vote were proud of participating, as they should be. The discussion then moved to ask how people voted and if voting a straight ticket is a good idea. Most believed the job of the voter was to be informed about those running and make a decision for each position based on what they believed rather than just choosing those in their party. 

Once the discussion died down in regard to voting, I moved through the recommended questions until one sparked interest. “How do you think your job relates to your role as a citizen?” was a major conversation starter for this group. Beginning with Jody, he owns Kenway Concrete, Llc and J. Allen Builders, , and a majority of the people working for him have a criminal record. To be an employee of his they must pass a drug test, but he will give a job to most anyone willing and ready to work hard. That is hard to come across in todays world. Citizens who have been in prison often have a difficult time finding work that pays enough to support a family, but Jody gives them that opportunity. This also brought up the discussion of immigration, and the competition for work. “Immigrants just work harder. They are here to support themselves and their families back home, so they show up to work, they pass drug tests… they want to be here,” Jody explained. He often would rather hired an immigrant with a valid visa, because it makes jobs go faster and the customer is happier. This is the struggle with blue collar jobs. “Americans are lazier,” he admitted. “The immigrants I employ don’t get all the same benefits the Americans do, so they have more to lose and more to work for.”

Anne Marie just began homeschooling her youngest daughter in the past month, and like I mentioned previously, my mom was a teacher for 15 years, so their job influences the community through the youth. They shape those whom we will see on the ballot in the future running for positions in our city, state, and country. The two women had many criticisms of the school systems in Bowling Green. “If I could change anything in this town right now I’d completely revamp the Board of Education,” mom said. Like we have talked about in class, even professors do not get paid enough for what they do, and neither do elementary, middle or highscool teachers. The subject of immigration arose again during the conversation regarding education in Bowling Green. My mom remembers a time when she had 35 students in her classroom, and 6 of them had recently immigrated to the United States. Specifically, twin boys from Africa. They spoke no English, had never sat in a classroom like this one before, and did not even know how to use a Western toilet. The situation was extremely difficult for everyone involved, and they just threw them into a classroom they were not learning anything in, because they did not understand what anyone was saying. Mom remembers getting a phone call from a mother of a student named Sarah in the same class; she was requesting her child be moved to another classroom, because she sat next to the boys and could not focus due to their strong odor. Mom had complained to the office about how strongly they smelled, but they were too afraid to do anything, because they did not want to insult them. “They said it was because they were African American; Sarah was African American too.” All teachers are not trained in ESL (English as a Second Language), and with Bowling Green listed as a sanctuary city, something regarding a change in the school systems and the way new foreign students are taught must change. “It is not that we do not want them there, they are children and we want them to learn so they can succeed. It is hard to do that when you cannot even communicate with them. Something has to change to bridge that gap.” she urged. 

The book we have been reading from, Love thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Mass, has opened my eyes to the horror many immigrants have faced. People do not just up and leave their homes because they want to make trouble for someone else. They leave because they are living somewhere they do not feel is safe for themselves or their families. As you have read, immigration issues were in the spotlight of my Kentucky Kitchen Table, and no one believed they were “rapists and criminals” as we have seen in the news. The issue is that of determining the best way to introduce them into our culture and society while also making it fair for those already here. Obviously, throwing them in with no help does not work, like in the example of my mom’s classroom, and unfortunately, people do not want to share the money they have worked hard for to pay for people they do not even know. Immigration is a wicked problem, and we were not able to solve it at one dinner, but there is hope for pressing issues such as this one if so many people of different backgrounds, faiths, a political parties can get together and discuss them like we did on November 6th.

I really enjoyed this project. Dinner with family is a part of my everyday routine, but having so many new faces around the table was a treat for everyone there. People appreciate their opinions being heard, and participating allowed them to do so while also hearing others. I know each person there learned something new and took home a new perspective on something they may have never thought of before. 

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