(People Starting from left: Rob, Me, Brad, Cheyenne, Daniel, Rachel. Jennifer took the Photo.)
My Dinner took place in Clarksville, Tennessee. Clarksville is a place that borders Kentucky and is very close to Fort Campbell. Fort Campbell has a strong influence on Clarksville in terms of military service. The city itself consists of many soldiers. I thought of this when I was going to my host family. I wondered if a military presence in a city had an effect on what citizenship means to the citizens living there. Along with the military presence, Clarksville is a prevalent city in Tennessee, not as big as Memphis or Nashville though. Clarksville is basically one giant suburb with Austin Pay State University as the main attraction.
The folks I had dinner were Cheyenne, Jennifer, Rob, Rachel, Daniel, and Brad. Cheyenne is 20 years old and is a current college student at Nashville State Community College; she looks to be a little shy. Jennifer is a 40 year old who went back to school for social work, she currently works at a mental health clinic. Rob is a 52 year old painter who is also in college for art. All of the people I talked to are currently in college. Rachel and Daniel are married and are both in the Air Force visiting Jennifer and Rob. Brad is Cheyenne’s boyfriend who works at an Auto Zone. I talked to them about school and they said they were a bit stressed since the semester started to pick up, but they are muddling through it. Rachel and Daniel talked about Air Force promotion board and getting ready for that. Brad told me he is enjoying his life. They told me they all get home at weird times throughout the day because of their jobs.
I began the actual Kentucky Kitchen Table with the required question, “What does a being a citizen mean to you aside from following laws, voting, and paying taxes.” This was an interesting question to start off with since the other three were not expecting to go this deep into conversation. Rob remarked when I asked this “Well this is going to be a long dinner.” I got some weird looks from the table. When I asked about the awkward silence Jennifer answered “We don’t like to talk about this kind of thing since we all have much different meanings of citizenship.” I asked the group to further elaborate and Cheyenne started off by talking about social change and how true citizens should always look out for one another from the government we live in. She continued with how a citizen is always involved within their government and always stands up for what’s right. Jennifer and Rob were a bit uneasy from this response so I asked them to share their thought on citizenry. Rob reflected how a citizen is a good worker and stays to himself most of the time unless someone needs help. “If someone has a flat tire on the road downtown, I’ll pull over to help them,” he said. “I just don’t think a citizen should be helping all the time and being involved all the time, only when it matters like if a company lays outsources a bunch of workers and stuff like that.” Jennifer seemed a bit heated but she answered in a calm fashion. “I only think a citizen should follow laws, vote for what they want, and pay taxes. People shouldn’t urge others to get involved because they don’t know about their lives and what they deal with. I think getting involved is for people who want to get into politics, I’m not a huge fan of politics.”
I noticed that Rob and Cheyenne had similar answers so I pointed that out. They found that odd between each other since they told me they were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I followed up with a question: “Does political leaning make a different kind of citizen in your eyes?” Jennifer answered first with a solid “Yes, I do. When people take a political stance on something they probably do it to make them look more involved. I find it to be dumb since they seek out people with different opinions and bicker about why their side is right and call the others names. It seems counter-productive to me since I think people should see all sides of an argument.” Rachel and Daniel seemed to disagree with Cheyenne and Rob, leaning towards Jennifer’s side. Rachel and Daniel explained that people just have to do their jobs and don’t do stupid things like go 50 in a 20 miles per hour zone. They talked about courtesy, loyalty, and honor. It was almost similar to the values the military holds its soldiers to. Brad did not know how to answer the question since he never thought of citizenship, he said he didn’t even vote.
Cheyenne took a different stance on this question. “I agree with Jennifer to an extent.” She started talking about how political leaning does make her see people in different ways, she’s sees the bickering as debating and a healthy way of how people share ideas nowadays. When I asked Rob, he agreed with Cheyenne. Rachel, Daniel and Brad seemed to duck out of this, they seemed a bit uncomfortable about talking about political matters. I felt a need to move on.
I asked if any of them had dinner like this around the table when they were growing up. Cheyenne said a little bit but she was really busy with after school activities and homework to actually have a conversation, she mostly just took a plate to her room. Jennifer said she did have dinner together as a family when she was growing up, but they really didn’t talk much. Rob on the other hand went into full story-teller mode and told the table about he had dinner as a family every day. “Even though I had a big family, we shared our time together at the dinner table and we talked about school, sports, anything really.” Rob seemed to appreciate the nostalgia of the question. He ultimately had a good time with his family dinner experience because he had talked with his family. Rachel, Daniel, and Brad all had similar experiences like Rob’s but a little more “vulgar.” The three started cracking jokes at the table, and it lightened the mood of the table, thus the picture for this project was taken. Jennifer just had dinner and didn’t talk. Jennifer said she wished her family had talked at the dinner table. I had dinner as a family at the table and we did talk but it was mainly about how school went and future scheduling events and planning stuff for the future, I found it quite boring. I also wish that I had Rob’s dinner table experience.
The next question I asked was what the best things in the world are today. Everyone said the Internet and smartphones, this took me by surprise so I asked them all why. Cheyenne started with how it is basically a pool of information we can all take from when we need it and it keeps everyone connected through social media. Rob reflected on how the world basically revolves around the internet nowadays and that it has many methods of entertainment with Netflix and games. Jennifer agreed with both people and said that the internet has made keeping up with everything so much easier. They asked me the same question. After much thought, I agreed with them, I saw the Internet as the defining keystone of today’s society in America. Brad agreed and told me about his gaming room and his hobby of gaming. Rachel and Daniel looked at Brad and approved of his hobby. We all started talking about one video game that somehow brought the whole table in to a new world: The Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda took a huge chunk of this conversation because everyone in the table had a connection to it. Jennifer and Rob remember playing the first one on Super Nintendo and talked about the difficulty of blowing the cartridge to make the game run better. Rachel and Daniel started talking about the newest installment, The Breath of the Wild. We all analyzed almost every Legend of Zelda game that came out, each giving our own opinions about the storyline, graphics, characters; we were connoisseurs of the Legend of Zelda, talking about it like vintage wine. This topic made everyone look back to the halcyon of a video game about a short blond kid slaying dragons and collecting pieces of magical relics.
I then asked about the worst things in this world. Rob started off with all the arguing and hostility between other countries, he would not like to see another war happen. Jennifer said that she thinks that the abuse of children and women across the globe is the absolute worst thing she could fathom. Cheyenne remarked that discrimination against people of color and sexual orientation was the worst thing. The three started to get heated and were arguing about which worst thing they thought of was more relevant. It was at this point I realized I had to be a bit of a mediator between us since they argued for a good five minutes before realizing that there was food on the table. I then made a rule that if you feel the need to argue, you can put in your thoughts but I want everyone’s ideas together, not against each other. If you want to argue, eat. They all agreed to the rule. I told them I thought the worst thing in the world was the Internet. I saw it as a very humane way of humanity dehumanizing itself. I saw it as separating more people through social media even though it brings people together. I saw it as a huge oxymoron.
I saw this as a learning experience for all of us. After that question, we all just continued with small talk, kind of like how Rob had dinner when he was growing up. This conversation was enlightening to me since I got to see some new perspectives to look at the world. I noticed that just the word “politics” can get people’s shields up and ready to argue. It is kind of like saying a statement with “but” in it and people only listening to the part after the “but.” The conversation, excluding the argument, went at a good pace. I had a very homey vibe during the time I was there. I found myself disagreeing with them with political views, but I did not voice my opinion to progress the conversation. I found that a little shocking since I thought I would be with the status quo of college students by staying not leaning towards liberal or conservative, but I found out from Cheyenne that most colleges are mainly liberal minded. I wouldn’t necessarily take that to be true, but I have seen that trend in a few of my classes. I initially thought the Kentucky Kitchen Table would be a waste of my time, but I actually enjoyed my time with the host family. I unfortunately forgot to ask the question about the military and citizenship, but I had a thoughtful conversation with the group and remembered how fun The Legend of Zelda was.