KKT in Alvaton, KY

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By Maria

I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my family’s home in Alvaton Kentucky. Alvaton is a small community about 10 miles out of Bowling Green. My home has been the epicenter of family gatherings for the past 9 years and because it is such a comforting place for a lot of people, I decided it was the best place to host a conversation over dinner. My Kentucky Kitchen table happened in our dining room ,instead of our actual kitchen because I needed to be able to sit the 9 people, I invited, around a single table.

The 9 people I invited came from a variety of age groups. The biggest age group consisted of 48-55 year olds. This group provided a perspective of living a majority of there life in a time before I was born. In this group were my parents (Tim and Toni), my Uncle Lloyd, and his girl friend Paula. Tim and Lloyd are brothers who love cars, love their children, and are loved by all animals. My father and uncle also have the unique experience of being raised by my fiery grandma. Toni ( my mother) is a daughter of a world war 2 refugee, a mortgage officer, and a creative, loving person. Paula is my uncle’s girlfriend, she works for better business bureau, and loves her daughters and grand children. The second age group was 29-33 year olds. This age group consisted of my cousin Micheal and his friend DP. My cousin Micheal is 33 years old, an internationally trained chef that currently works in construction. I didn’t know DP well , so when I asked how he liked to be described, he said to just put that he is from Mississippi. The third age group ranged from 16-21. This group included my boyfriend Joseph, my sister Hanna, and Julia, my sisters friend. Joseph is 21 years old, he was born in Arizona, and actively tries to identify with his Mexican heritage. Hanna is 16, loves her dogs, identifies as Asexual, is an insanely fast reader and is probably one of the smartest people I know. Julia is 16, identifies as Queer, speaks fluent German, is the daughter of an Egyptian immigrant, and a German immigrant.
Everyone brought food to this gathering, however I helped my mother prepare the main dish of the night. My mother and I made her mother’s recipe for Weiner Schnitzel and baked tomatoes as well as some vegetarian Schnitzel for me to enjoy. My Uncle Lloyd and Paula brought potato salad. My cousin Micheal brought a tomato and pepper salad. Julia made her mother’s recipe for Baklava. DP made sweet tea and Joseph brought juice.
Once everyone had taken at least one bite, explained the assignment to them. As well as told them not to say anything they didn’t the internet to know such as if they murdered someone in 1995. Then I preceded to ask the first question of what citizenship means to you. The first person to answer was DP and he said “Imprisonment”. I barely understood what he meant by that but luckily the other people at the table had more to say. For the most part people said something along the lines of being a citizen to them meant they had the freedom to be who they wanted and have the opinions and beliefs they wanted. I believe the most impactful thing said about citizenship came from my mother Toni. She explained how sacred and important United States citizenship had been in the creation of her life and why she loves this country despite its issues.

Toni believes she wouldn’t have been alive today if her mother and grandparents hadn’t been granted first entry to the United states then later citizenship. As Toni was telling the story of her mother’s escape from a fascist government to her path to citizenship in a new country, I noticed many parallels between her story and Exit West. For Example, in both stories loved ones had to be left behind in the dangerous country because they were either to old or scared to leave.Another parallel is that both my grandmother and the main characters in Exit West face xenophobia in the countries they found refugee in. I think that what I read in Exit West helped me to understand the struggle immigrants and refugee’s face, while the story of my own family’s experience as a refugees made this understanding so much more personal to me.

My mom’s comment about citizenship, started a discussion about immigration. For the most part almost everyone at the table was pro immigration expect for Paula. Paula believes that muslim immigrants are very dangerous and tried to conscience of it for a whole five minutes. I didn’t try to change the subject even though I heavily disagreed with what she was saying because I felt it was important to hear some one who has a different opinion out. However after Paula made a comment about how Muslims hated god , Hanna had enough and finally spoke up. Hanna gave Paula a education in the progression of the there monotheistic religions. This magically ended the conversation about immigration. However, it magically appeared again later with some other political opinions even when the questions asked had zero to do with politics. I learned a lesson of life that people are going to talk about what they want , even if it has nothing to do with the conversation at hand.

The question I asked next was as “What kind of person do you want to be?”. Interestingly enough some answered this question in way that could be applied to the three questions that frame our class.”How can people live better (or, at the least, less badly) together?
How can we solve problems? How can we have more of a say over our lives – and contribute to others having more of a say over their lives?” For example Micheal said that he just wishes he had more say over his life, so he could be more helpful and happy. Another example is that Paula and Toni both said they just want to help as many people as possible / be everyone’s mother. Actually both Toni and Paula’s career reflects this wish of theirs. Toni assists people in owning a home and even when they can’t get a mortgage she still helps them work towards making the changes necessary to receive one. Paula helps to protect people from bad or hurtful businesses. Julia and Joseph’s answer had less to do with the class’ three central questions and more to do with their current struggle with identity. Joseph described to us how he wishes he knew more about his Mexican father because he feels as fills part of his identity is missing. Julia just wants to be able to balance her multiple identities such as being Queer and a strict Roman Catholic or trying to balance the three cultures(American, Egyptian, German) that are part of her life. However this struggle with their identities fits into to one of the main themes of this class about how we view ourselves and others. Basically they were bringing real world experience of the Self part of the course to light to me.

I also asked the question “ Which social issue was closest to your heart?” Toni expressed that helping immigrants and refugees was closest to her heart. Paula expressed that she just wanted equality for everyone and help anyone no matter their differences. Hanna said at the moment mass shootings in schools, and our education system is the closest to her heart. Julia informed us about why LGBTQ+ rights are so important to her. This actually lead to an interesting moment when Julia explained to the two older age groups what each letter in the acronym meant because they had very little experience with the acronym. Then this led into me saying and realizing how important multi generational, and multi identity conversations are because people’s hearts are usually in the right place they just are not always educated in the current lingo to express their support or beliefs. Also during this discussion, I got this really great advice from Tim and Paula. Basically that even though ,I care about so many social issues, I can’t solve them all without burning myself out. This advice remains due of a class discussion we had about how to know when you have fulfilled your moral responsibility. I remembered in this class discussion that we agreed we should do as much as we can but not where it interferes with our own personal comfort. I believe that is what Tim and Paula’s advice is based in.

The final questions I asked were “Did you know your neighbors growing up and do you know your neighbors now?” I noticed a trend with this question. The oldest age group answered yes to both, whereas the other two age groups answered no to both. When prompted to explain their answer, the oldest group agreed that it was important to know your neighbor so you could have someone to depend on nearby. For things such as, sharing things like sugar and bobcats, having someone to watch or care for your house when your gone. The younger groups expressed a fear that their neighbors could be crazy murders and that is why they choose not to know there neighbors. I thought it was interesting the contrasting views between the generations . The fact that one group find a security is knowing their neighbor and the other felt more secure not knowing their neighbors. The most interesting trend I found was that every single person at the table believed that a sense of community is a very important aspect of humanity. This made me wonder how will my generation and younger form communal bounds if we are to scared to know our neighbors?

Even though my Kentucky kitchen table got a little loud, and everyone had differing opinions, nobody had any anger for anyone else at the table after the conversation was over. That to me was one of the most amazing thing , that a group of people could talk about such serious and deep topics without hurting each other. And I know this is an experience we frequently have in class , but experiencing it in a less controlled setting solidified my hope in community conversations. I will end this blog post with the last thing my uncle Lloyd said on Sunday: “The great thing about the United States, is that people are free to have different ways of being.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Kentucky Kitchen Table In Alvaton

By Reuben

KKT PictureMy 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.

 

Easter in Alvaton

 

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By Emma

On Easter Sunday, seven people, ranging from my close family to a considerably recent acquaintance, gathered at my grandparents’ house for a time of food and fellowship in Alvaton, Kentucky, a community outside of Bowling Green. For me, traditional family dinners on holidays are a well-worn tradition that has formed my childhood and shapes my adult life. This dinner allowed me to catch up with my family while also adding a new guest and the opportunity to discuss and deliberate on a variety of social issues and our interests regarding citizenship.

Around the table sat a variety of interesting personalities that brought an array of experiences and opinions to the conversation. My name is Emma, and I am a nineteen-year-old studying elementary education and history at Western Kentucky University. While I have lived in Bowling Green for the past ten years, much of my childhood was spent in Indiana. My dad, Steve, is forty-eight years old, holds degrees in political science and student affairs and a doctorate degree in educational leadership, and works as an administrator at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. While Steve is a registered Republican, he is often relatively moderate in his political opinions. Also at the table were my maternal grandparents, Larry and Norma, who are in their late sixties. They are high school sweethearts who have lived all over the country from Indiana, Texas, California, Nebraska, and now, Kentucky. They have two children, a son, who lives in Colorado, and a daughter, my mom Laura. Larry is a retired engineer who now fills most of his free time with woodworking, photography, and watching football. Norma is also retired and enjoys quilting and cooking. She insisted on cooking the entire meal on Easter Sunday, which was full of traditional comfort food. Both Larry and Norma are considerably conservative in their political opinions. Auntie Carol, despite her affectionate title, is not actually related to anyone at the table. She was born and raised in Iowa but spent much of her adult life in Hawaii as a massage therapist where she raised her two children. She lost her husband many years ago to cancer, and after meeting my grandparents, she befriended my family, moved to the mainland in Nebraska, and has become like another grandparent. She, too, is largely conservative politically and a devout Catholic. Next to me sat my boyfriend Baker, a twenty-year-old advertising and graphic design student at Western Kentucky University. Baker was born and raised in Kentucky, works as an intern at a local church, and considers himself to be politically moderate. Finally, my friend and classmate, Reuben was our new and very welcomed guest at the table. Reuben was born in New York and is very involved with learning and growing in his Chinese heritage. He is an architecture student at WKU. Primarily in age, levels of experience, and interests, our diversity was evident as we sat around the table. After catching up on school and hobbies and discussing my mom and sister, who were out of town on vacation, we began our deliberation on citizenship and other topics that were important to us.

“What does citizenship mean to you?” opened the conversation and provided the opportunity for many people to discuss their perspectives. Carol discussed that it was a privilege that is often taken for granted by those who obtain it by birth. She said it was more than just living somewhere and that it should be appreciated for all the rights and responsibilities it brings. She discussed her appreciation for those who work to obtain citizenship honorably but also recognized her lack of appreciation for those who may try to immigrate illegally. Larry and Norma both remarked that they were extraordinarily proud to be American and that people often forget how special it is. Baker noted that a close friend of his, an illegal immigrant, had recently become engaged to an American citizen, an occurrence that some people had speculated was just an attempt for him to gain citizenship. Baker’s comment sparked conversation regarding the DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, controversy. Steve adamantly opposed the deportation of illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. It seemed that Steve felt that a person who feels a connection to the place they live and is willing to contribute to the productivity of the society deserves the opportunity to stay in the country. Norma added to this point, saying that many natural citizens of the country lack the willingness to contribute to society and rely on government assistance. The overall theme of the answers to the citizenship question seemed to be that American citizenship was a privilege that should be held in the highest regard. Too often, we take the rights we have for granted.

Then, Reuben posed the next question about whether the group trusted the government. Carol answered quickly that she did not but began to reason through her adamant opposition to the current government. She stated that the government is currently far removed from the people it serves, particularly at the national level. This was a resounding comment at the table. I mentioned my thoughts that perhaps the democracy envisioned at the country’s inception was not the democracy that frames the nation today. I mentioned that I firmly believe in the country’s ideals, but I think too often, the ideals that shaped early American values remain absent from the America we know today. Steve, Larry, and Baker discussed the concept of term limits for legislators who may maintain a level of comfort that prohibits them from executing their duties effectively. Norma mentioned that it is up to the citizens to ensure that unofficial term limits are enforced. Overall, this topic yielded an agreement that the government’s failures, especially on the national level, are currently more evident than its successes. Additionally, I found it interesting that the entire table agreed that citizenship is a distinct privilege, yet we all found issues within the government that seeks to serve its citizens. Reuben also asked the table if we held a hope for humanity. Each person giggled slightly at the seemingly dramatic question, but after a few moments, many of us came up with a thoughtful response. While I do not remember the specific responses, every person at the table agreed that hope in humanity was certainly present. I think hope for the future and a hope for the success of ourselves and the people around us is what ultimately drives all ambition and purpose. I also couldn’t help but look around at the kind, familiar faces that sat at the table and the large helpings of food in between us and feel that my hope in humanity, as silly or dramatic as it may sound, was right around me in that moment.

This afternoon allowed me to appreciate the many perspectives of my family that are not often shared around the familiarity of the dinner table. Additionally, it allowed me to see that taking the time to get to know a classmate and appreciate him for the unique experiences he brings to the table is a necessary and special way to stretch beyond the comfort of an ordinary family dinner. I left the dinner with a new appreciation for the many backgrounds present that allowed each of our circumstances to meet at that specific moment. Furthermore, I saw the benefit of the deliberative engagement described by Keith Melville. While we did not solve the world’s problems over dinner, my family did gain insight into diverse opinions and maintain respect for one another while discussing issues of considerable importance.

IMG_3928I think it’s important to note that one of my favorite moments of the afternoon occurred outside of the meal we shared together. My grandparents are antique dealers, and one of the rooms in their home is dedicated to many of their priceless or collectible items including Native American artifacts, tobacco tins, clocks, china, and Civil War artifacts. One of the more special items in their collection is a Civil War rifle that was carried by one of my relatives in the Battle of Antietam. Before our meal, my grandma showed our special guest, Reuben, around the antique room and allowed Reuben to hold the rifle, which is one of the photos I included. After reflecting on the afternoon and looking at the picture of Reuben holding the rifle, I came to an interesting realization. My relative, Joseph Carter, carried that gun into a battle in 1862, and Reuben is a young man descended from Chinese immigrants living in 2018. There seems to be little connecting the two parties, yet the simple invitation of Reuben to my grandparents’ home allowed this wide gap to be bridged tremendously. In our class, we often discuss a bridge that connects how things currently are and how we would ideally want things to be. The bridge holds many diverse ideas and strategies, yet I think the overarching theme of the bridge is effort and respect. It took a small amount of effort to invite Reuben to a family dinner, and we all enjoyed and respected hearing his unfamiliar and diverse stories and ideas. Similarly, if even a small amount of effort and respect is applied to other aspects of life and deliberation, many other wide gaps can be bridged as well.

KKT Meal

By Antonio

It was a Monday night: April 17th, to be exact. I found myself eating dinner with a family that I had never met before. It was for an Mahurin Honors College course and we were expected to have a discussion about the meaning of citizenship and the values that we hold dear. I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that excited about the project, but I felt that I would learn from the experience nevertheless. After all, I had spent nearly a whole semester reading different articles about the benefits of deliberation and how discussion is a useful tool for discovering other perspectives on major issues. Prior to the assignment, I had only really done this with people my age. It would be the first time that I would thoroughly learn from the perspectives and insights of experienced adults.

The assignment brought me to the cozy home of Allen and Alisa in Alvaton. What a full life they’ve lived! Allen is a true renaissance man. In addition to previously and extensively serving in the military, he is heavenly involved with the International Center in Bowling Green, travels to the United Nations annually, and is an avid hunter. He has done medical volunteering in Panama, traversed through Central America across the Pan-American Highway, hunted game in Africa, and once lived in Britain. He is knowledgeable about both Christianity and Islam and speaks some Spanish. At one point, he even ran for office. Not to mention he was a college roommate of my professor’s father! Alisa is an avid reader, a devout Christian, a proud grandmother, and a former German speaker. She has moved everywhere alongside her husband and once coordinated a mission trip to Guatemala. She is a wonderful cook and made some delightful mashed potatoes, green beans, and deer steak: which Allen hunted. Although she insisted that we not bring anything, I brought some rocky road ice cream. It complemented perfectly with the caramel cake she made! Also at the dinner was Annie, a sophomore at WKU that studies Arabic, Spanish, International Affairs and Political Science.

Annie and I began the discussion with a fundamental required question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? For Allen, one of the most important parts of being a citizen was becoming informed. He was very concerned about how the American people are either misguided or unaware about the current state of political affairs. He mentioned that people will say they don’t watch the news because of the negativity or how they don’t attend town-hall meetings even for important topics like budget spending. Allen felt that people should care and need to care more often. He mentioned that an ill-informed citizenry was a primary concern of the Founding Fathers. Given the times, the worry seems warranted.

Another concern of Allen’s was that there is an issue of Americans not knowing their history or basic aspects about citizenship. Alisa agreed and they both mentioned a study that had asked STEM majors at the University of Texas a series of citizenship questions. For example, “Who fought in the civil war?” Supposedly, a disheartening number of students could not give an answer. Alisa noted how immigrants often learn that sort of information when they become naturalized American citizens. She mentioned some friends who had recently took their test, and, supposedly it was hard. Luckily, their friends were heavy readers and likely passed. In addition to the importance of being civically informed, Alisa felt that citizenship also meant becoming involved with the community and government at all levels. Given their history of volunteering and activism, it seems that the Youngmans have taken their definitions of citizenship to heart.

After a lengthy discussion on citizenship, we then moved on to another interesting question: what social issue is closest to your heart and why? Immigration was an issue that was dear to both Alisa and Allen. The reason was that they felt that xenophobia and suspicion of immigrants was a long-term danger and that it conflicted with our identity as a country. As a latino, it impacts my family directly. I expressed my frustration that despite our heritage, some members of my family have voiced vigorous support for Donald Trump. Allen mentioned that, unfortunately, it is a common cycle: immigrants who have settled here for a long time eventually start to grow distrusting of other immigrants. Looking back on the discussion, it makes me wonder what sort of culture we have created in this country: one that embraces diversity or one of clear division?

The previous question inadvertently brought up a discussion on fake news and how the concept has changed our perception of current events. Allen said it perfectly: before, there were simply different sides of an argument. Now, we don’t even know what the facts are. We also talked about how the advent of the internet has made it easier to fall victim of confirmation bias. To avoid this, Allen, as a liberal, reads a variety of news articles… including Fox News. Again, this family practices what it preaches.

The next two discussion topics were generally positive. For Alisa, the best thing about our world (1) is that young people since 9/11 have been willing to fight for our country. Allen agreed, and talked about how many young Americans go to war and come back severely injured and mutilated. Despite this, they keep their ambition and their willingness to fight. He also mentioned that our generation is smart. I really appreciated this, as it’s rare that people say good things about our generation. I was able to relate particularly with Allen and Alisa in that we wanted to live in a kind of community that is diverse (2). Diversity was a value that the Youngmans especially held dear. They reminisced about when they lived in Washington D.C., how their neighbors came from all over the world, and that there were many international restaurants in the city. While they value the refugee population in Bowling Green, they felt that Kentucky just did not have a high level of diversity compared to Washington D.C. In addition to being diverse, they also wanted an educated and inclusive community: something they found in Bowling Green as shown through the Unity Walk. In my short time here, I am impressed by how much these values matter in the city. By making WKU accessible and teaching Chinese in elementary school, accepting a vibrant refugee community, and fighting for change in the Fairness Campaign, Bowling Green has made a true effort to embrace these values and is a community that I’m proud to be a part of.

As our conversation came to an end, we asked the Youngmans what advice they would give to people running for office. Alisa mentioned a local politician who ran for a position when she was younger. She valued that he funded his own campaign, avoided using flyers, and served with integrity. While she does not trust politicians, she recommends that they follow his example. Allen noted that successful politicians are often very personable and can keep a good sense of humor. Thus, he implicitly suggested that candidates should take on those traits. As I was hearing this, I couldn’t help but think of Trump and Hillary. It reminded me of my Trump-supporting friends who admired that he funded his own campaign. On the other hand, Hillary was simply not a relatable person: a trait Saturday Night Live took full advantage of skit after skit. That said, the Youngmans gave sound advice: have integrity, be personable, and have a sense of humor. Of course, it never hurts to fund your own campaign as well.

I learned a lot that night, but what I think I learned most was that you just never know the depth of a person’s experiences. Just looking at Alisa and Allen, I would have never guessed that they had been to so many places or had helped so many people. In a similar spirit, I learned that it’s possible to have the stereotypes of one political ideology but have beliefs that follow a completely different political philosophy. The Youngmans joked that they’re the most right-wing liberals out there. After all, they come from an older generation, live in rural Kentucky, support gun rights, and are churchgoers. As stereotypes have it, this just screams conservative. Actually, they are very progressive: they support LGBT+ equality, reproductive rights, and the acceptance of refugees. In essence, the dinner was a reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

This assignment really related well to the class’s key question, how do we live well together? As Keith Melville put it in How We Talk Matters, “politics is, in many ways, about how we communicate with each other.”  If we don’t take the time to honestly communicate and to try to understand how our fellow citizens think, we won’t have the opportunity to learn from their experiences, to debunk deceptive stereotypes, or to hear ideas and perspectives that we have never really thought about before. In other words, when we take the time to talk, we make an effort to get to know each other and to establish a mutual understanding. These are ideas that have been discussed extensively in my citizenship class and that’s exactly what we did at the dinner: as former strangers, we decided that citizens need to be informed and that our society should be diverse. And, once again, I was reminded to look past stereotypes. It was a blessing to have had the opportunity to meet Allen and Alisa. I’m glad I took part in this assignment and can’t wait to gather around again at our Kentucky Kitchen Table.

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Dinner with Annie, the Youngmans, and my not-photogenic self

Alvaton, Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annie

On a drizzly evening on April 17th, after a rather quiet drive as my maps app took me on the most roundabout course possible to get to our destination, Antonio and I pulled into the driveway of a small house in Alvaton, Kentucky, a community about 30 minutes away from WKU’s campus. We were greeted by Allen, who met us at my car with a German Shepherd on his heels. After exchanging pleasantries, he led us inside where we were greeted by his wife Alisa, two more dogs, and two cats. Their home was quiet cozy, and I had no trouble getting comfortable on their couch and playing with their dogs as we waited for dinner to finish cooking. When we had arrived, Alisa had just put the rolls in the oven, which allowed the four of us time to get to know each other a little before we all sat down at the table.

And, wow, Allen and Alisa have done it all! Through their military backgrounds, they have traveled all over the world and have met so many different people. They have even visited the same college towns in Spain and England where I told them I will be studying abroad next semester. As a result, they always have a story to tell that relates to the topic at hand. We quickly began delving into political topics, something that seems to happen often when I am able to direct the conversation (as a student majoring in International Affairs, Spanish, and Arabic with a minor in Political Science, I have a quite a lot of opinions, as one might imagine). I soon learned that Antonio and I shared very similar opinions with Allen and Alisa, something that I was shocked to discover considering our very different generations. They are, to put it informally, pretty woke.

Both Allen and Alisa showed genuine interest in us and in our passions. After explaining my studies, Antonio told us that he was also majoring in Spanish as well as psychology. Allen was curious about what we both planned to do with our degrees once we graduated and, after hearing that I wanted to work for the UN but have never visited it, even went so far as to invite me to go to the UN with him for the annual conference he attends as part of his job (wow!!!). Allen and Alisa went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and at home, which is a character trait that I soon learned they exhibit in all facets of their live.

As our conversation progressed, we soon brought up questions that may have seemed controversial, but only further showed the openness and acceptance that Allen and Alisa both demonstrate. After a somewhat lengthy conversation about how many people seem to make judgments about Muslims or the Islamic faith in general, Antonio posed a question about Allen and Alisa’s own faith: does your religious identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? To set the stage, both Allen and Alisa are practicing Christians and attend church on a regular basis, and Antonio and I both went to private religious schools in Louisville. Allen and Alisa answered with a simple and straightforward, “yes, in every way.” When asked about how they believe Christianity and the LGBT+ community are meant to interact, they were very passionate about their belief that members of the LGBT+ community are, of course, welcome in their church. Alisa immediately quoted the passage, “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and explained that the desire of their church is to be a safe and welcoming space for all people, regardless of race, class, or sexual identity.

Similarly, when asked what social issues were closest to their hearts and why, Allen mentioned that he was very concerned about women’s reproductive rights. He told a story of how he was once being interviewed for a position and was asked his opinion on abortion, to which he replied something along the lines of, “Well, I think it’s terrible. I’ve never had one, and I’m never going to have one. I’m thankful I don’t have to make that decision because it is a weighty one that is not to be taken lightly, but it’s not my decision to make for whichever woman is contemplating it.” He didn’t get the job, but I appreciated his ability to be vocal about his belief without attempting to force it onto others. Another social issue Allen and Alisa mentioned was “fake news,” which he said is helping to create a misinformed electorate.

This fake news also ties into their response of what it means to be a citizen (besides voting, paying taxes, and obeying laws). They both believed that it is our duty to be informed, about current politics and events as well as about our history as a nation and as a world. Allen believed that, although my generation has a million and one tools at its disposal to gather information, these tools tend to not be used. This, he said, will be detrimental to our society, as political demagogues will take advantage of an uninformed public to advance their own agenda. Both Allen and Alisa mentioned how many people are unable to answer basic questions about U.S. history, citing a TV bit where an interviewer asked basic questions taken from a U.S. citizenship test to many students from the University of Texas (even the really smart ones, like the STEM majors) and most were unable to give correct answers to questions like “Who fought in the Civil War?” or even “Who won the Civil War?” Alisa said that another part of being a citizen is active community involvement at all levels of government, meaning that citizens need to call their representatives, go to town hall meetings, and show a genuine interest in and knowledge of governmental procedures within their communities that affect them and their neighbors.

One very encouraging thing that Allen said to me was that, despite what I may believe (I am notoriously a cynic), the younger generation that is beginning to rise up really is fantastic and really will make a difference, I’m just too close to it to see that. He said that his generation is a lost cause at this point, there’s no way to change their minds about things, but that once my generation comes to power, the world will be different. As someone who is deeply involved in political and social activism but also disheartened by the lack of progress I see, this came as a great relief to me.

Almost everything we talked about over dinner—which was delicious venison Salisbury steak with green beans, mashed potatoes, and the modern day manna that is Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls—related back to our class in some way; from the actual act of conversing with someone with no intention to be right, but rather to just put our opinions out there, to actually discussing how we can live well (or at least somewhat better) together. Dinner with Allen and Alisa showed that although we sometimes vary in opinion—for example, Allen said he was pro-gun—we are still able to find common ground on which to forge relationships. During one part of the conversation, when we were talking about how Islam is often misconstrued, I was reminded of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (although this book is about race, not religion) in that, like people of color, Muslims must often face judgment, concerns, or different treatment from others that would not be passed onto Christians, or in Rankine’s case, white people. For example, Christians almost always take into account the context of a passage that they quote, and even regard that context as an integral part of understanding that specific scripture; however, many Christian critics of Islam (that I have observed, at least) fail to take into account the context of specific entries from the Qur’an. Partly because it is difficult to understand the context unless you are a scholar, because verses are ordered from longest to shortest, not chronologically or in a story format, and partly, I think, because eliminating the context makes it seem “bad” and gives them a better evidence to prove their point that Islam is wrong.

After we wrapped up conversation over desert, Allen stood at the end of his driveway with a flashlight and helped me back out, while extending an invitation for us to have dinner again sometime. All in all, I had a great time at dinner with Antonio, Allen, and Alisa. The openness of our conversation allowed us to get to know each other, and I noticed that on the drive back to campus, Antonio and I were much more talkative with each other, as well (it helps that my iTunes began playing an artist that we both enjoyed, nos encanta la banda mexicana “Jesse & Joy). It is amazing that in just two and a half hours, you can become comfortable enough with strangers to feel at ease sharing your opinions about rather controversial and deep topics. I wish the best for Allen and Alisa in the future, and may even take them up on their offer to stop by again!

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we cleaned our plates at our table!

Cate’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Cate

For my Kentucky kitchen table project, I, along with two other students in my Honors 251 class, went to a host table that Ms. Gish assigned to us. At our table was Nate, the host, who is a former math teacher who now preaches at a Disciples of Christ church. This is the second year he has volunteered to let students have dinner in his home for this project. The other two students there were Zachary, who is active in his fraternity on campus, and Abigail, who is majoring in Biology and loves science.

When Abigail and I arrived, we all sat around the table with drinks to get to know a little about everyone before we began our meal. These introductions ended up taking about an hour, and I got to learn a lot about Nate, as well as new things about both of my classmates. Nate was very open about his past and told very funny stories about taking an extra year to graduate because of how often he was “chasing a girl,” and how he eventually reconnected with the girl who he would marry. He was also very open with talking about the death of his wife, and when he spoke about such a hard time with so much candor it really made us connect with someone who we didn’t actually know that well. Throughout the entire night, Nate was extremely honest with us and I appreciated this a lot. I also learned new things about my classmates and where they are from. Zachary is from Louisville, while Abigail is from a smaller town, like myself. She actually lives on a road named after her family, which is something I see all the time where I’m from and I think is so neat. One thing I appreciated a lot was how Nate strived to make connections with each of us. He used to live in a town near Abigail, so they talked about that. We also discussed how, after the death of his wife, he would often go to Barren River Lake to take time and reflect and think. I actually live on the lake and asked if he would stay at the Lodge, which is 15 minutes from my house. He said he did and it was just fascinating to be able to know that this person who I never would have known is so familiar with the place I go to all summer to play sand volleyball or go kayaking. This summer, the Lodge finally reopened the beaches after years of not having sand, and Nate was just as excited as I was. Another way we could relate is that Nate said he always liked to stop and eat at a really good Barbecue place when he was headed to the lake. I immediately knew he was talking about Rib Lickers, as I had spent a year working there. It was just interesting to know that I was in this man’s house who I didn’t know, eating food he had made, when I had probably served him food and never even realized. This idea of the importance in connecting with someone is something that Nate would later discuss in depth once we had started our meal. Nate had prepared a traditional Italian meal of garlic roasted chicken, salad, corn, and spaghetti. Abigail, Zachary, and I had shown off our culture by bringing the staples: chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, and cupcakes.

As this was the Monday after the presidential election, that was a topic bound to arise. Abigail mentioned how she was really glad that when we had discussed Trump’s election in class, everyone had been respectful of each other’s opinions. This is where the connections come in. Nate asked us why we thought that everyone had been kind and not immediately had malice towards those with opposing opinions. Zach said that it was because we all knew each other. Nate agreed and explained that if we have relationships with people, we can look past our differences and still see them as that person who we connected with in the first place. He said when he saw posts on Facebook full of hate he would simply comment things like “Don’t you remember when we had this class together” or some other instance where they hadn’t been two people with conflicting stances, they had just been two people. He also would remind them that he loved them before this and he would love them after. I think this is the perfect message to relate to Citizen and Self because it goes hand in hand with how we can talk better to other people. If we can see the common ground that we have with a person, we can look past our differences because we have the ability to be empathetic with their situation. When someone posts a hate-filled post to everyone on their Facebook feed, they are generalizing and assuming and, until the comments start rolling in, there is no discussion. They post their opinion as being absolute, when no one’s actually is.
Nate also had simple but unheard of advice for people running for office: love your opposition. He believes that if you don’t respect opinions that differ from yours, you have at least got to respect the person holding that opinion. If we start belittling people to what about them we don’t agree with, we become full of hate and lose our humanity. He also talked about his concern for the LGBT community, which he said was the social issue closest to his heart. He said when he taught in high schools he saw the horrible ways that they were treated and he tried his hardest to let kids know that his room was a safe place they could go, and that led several students to eat lunch in his classrooms so they wouldn’t have to eat with the kids that tormented them.

The Kentucky kitchen table was unexpectedly the most beneficial part of this class for me. I expected it to be awkward, but thanks to a gracious host and the two classmates I went with, it was enjoyable and educational (and delicious!) I would recommend doing this project to anyone who wants to learn how other citizens view citizenship or simply just to get to know members of your community better.

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A New Experience: My Kentucky Kitchen Table Project

By Abigail

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For my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project, I had the opportunity to travel to a home in Bowling Green, Kentucky that I had never been to before. The host was a very friendly man, named Nate, who was very open to sharing personal stories and what it means to live in society today. Nate is a retired school teacher and is currently preaching at a local Christian church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. His wife Nancy has passed away but he is very close with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, whom he visits quite regularly in Florida. He is very outgoing and not afraid at all to tell embarrassing stories about himself or tell of many experiences he has faced. Also seated at the dinner table were two of my classmates from Citizen and Self. Zachary, a sophomore at Western Kentucky University, is from Louisville, Kentucky and is majoring in English. He told of his experiences as a swimmer in Louisville, Kentucky and his new involvement with Greek life on campus. Cate is a freshman at Western Kentucky University who is also majoring in English. She told of her experiences as a volleyball player in high school and of her job working at a local barbeque restaurant in her hometown: Glasgow, Kentucky. However, she is not involved with a Greek organization on campus.

When we first arrived at Nate’s house, we sat down at his dinner table and began getting to know one another better. We each described our adjustments to living on campus, and shared our backgrounds with one another. Nate talked about his experiences as a college student at Western Kentucky University and also at University of Kentucky and told us many stories about him and his wife. He also talked about how close he is with his neighbors and how they have a Fourth of July party every year full of fun and fireworks. Zach also discussed his closeness with his neighbors and how his parents host a neighborhood Bible study. I talked about how my neighborhood road is named after my last name because everyone who used to live there was related.

We then went and filled our plates with the delicious food that each person had contributed to the table. Nate cooked a full course meal including chicken, spaghetti, salad, rolls, green beans, and corn. Zachary, Cate, and I were responsible for bringing the deserts which consisted of chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, and chocolate cupcakes. Nate said that he loves to cook and used to cook all the time when his wife Nancy was living, but it is so difficult now to cook for only one. Since Bowling Green, Kentucky is home to a wide variety of restaurants, Nate states that he likes to eat out a lot. We then directed the conversation to community and citizenship, and we began asking many questions that helped guide the discussion. We first asked him what citizenship meant to him. He said that citizenship means protecting, voting, paying taxes, and following laws. He also mentioned how he recognized that although there is a separation between church and state, he wishes that everyone would act morally by caring for one another. He believes that people have to be taught to care. Coming from a teacher’s standpoint, he used to see kids all the time who had feelings but did not see the responsibility to act on those feelings and care for others. His idea of citizenship and the act of caring for one another showed that his religious or spiritual identity, Christianity, related to how he thinks we should treat other people. He thinks that no matter what religious affiliation you are associated with, whether it be Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, a person is expected to care. Nate shared his story of how he first became a preacher at the church he attends. He said he originally began on the minister supply list, a list including fill-in preachers when the main preacher is sick or in the hospital. However, his main preacher was fired and Nate was called to take his place. Willingly, he decided to do so and has been there ever since. He has been preaching for ten years. As we were on the subject of religion and its role in democracy, we went around the dinner table and shared our denominations. We are all Christians but I am a member of a Church of Christ, Cate attends a Baptist church, Zachary is non-denominational, and Nate preaches at a Christian church: Disciples of Christ.

Another topic that we discussed was the social issue that Nate holds closest to his heart. He said that working with the LGBTQ community has meant more to him than anything. His experience as a school teacher showed him that many who sexually identify as this were picked on and ridiculed. He said that his room was a safe space for them to go to and that they knew that. He said that many of them would come in his room during lunchtime and eat with him, that way they would not be bullied.

Lastly, we talked of the presidential election and the uproar it has caused on social media and in society. I told Nate about the discussion we had in our Citizen and Self class about the election and although some agreed with the decision made, and others opposed it, the students were still very respectful of others feelings. Nate told us that the reason why everyone was able to accept the differences in the room was because we had built relationships with one another and arguing over the election would hinder or hurt those relationships. He talked about the importance of connections and finding common ground. His advice for people running for office in our country is to learn to love your opposition. Although disagreements will occur, it is essential to love and respect the person that you are disagreeing with. Whenever we refuse to love and respect those we are disagreeing with, we have lost our humanity.

By doing this project, I learned a lot about other people’s views of our world today and how important it is to discuss with others the most prominent affairs affecting our country. Essentially, living well together involves understanding where others are coming from and being open-minded to other perspectives. It is not only about sharing your beliefs but it is about really listening and understanding others also. While sitting at the dinner table, it was very interesting to hear Nate’s take on the world. Nate is a man who lives in the same city as me, but I would have never had the opportunity to meet with him if it was not for connections and this project. Although I was very nervous when coming into the situation, I am glad that I went as I now see it as a great activity that really ties into the whole basis of the Citizen and Self class: understanding how we live and work well with others. I would definitely recommend this project to other students because although every individual at the kitchen table came from diverse backgrounds, we each brought something new to the table and was able to talk through our differences.