Hometown Barbeque

By August

I originally intended for my Kentucky Kitchen Table to be located in my grandmother’s dining room at her home in Southern Indiana, but it was such a nice day that I cannot blame everyone for wanting to sit outside! So we sat out on my grandmother’s patio and had dinner and conversation. My first guests included my grandmother Sharon and grandfather Omar, both of whom grew up in poverty. My grandfather lived in a shack with no running water, and my grandmother and her 11 siblings moved constantly from tiny rental to tiny rental. They overcame the cycle of poverty together and now live a very comfortable life. My next guests were my parents. My father Steve is a veteran and my mother Shonda was his wife while he served. They are both middle class and live comfortably. After that were both of my siblings, both of whom brought a friend I had not met. My brother Steven brought his girlfriend Ava, both of whom are sophomores in high school, and my sister Alexia brought her friend Kalie and my sister is a senior and her friend is a junior in high school. My grandmother invited my Great Aunt Fran whom I see very little, as well as my cousin Jackie and her boyfriend Matt and his children Jade and Logan whom I had not met. My Great Aunt Fran has seen poverty and divorce and still struggles financially because she has a physical disability that hinders her from working. My cousin and her boyfriend work paycheck to paycheck. I had four more guests who are not pictured, which were my Aunt Teresa and Uncle Jerry and their two grandchildren, who have an Indian father. Their father Ben and mother Crystal, my cousins, wanted to come but they were in India on vacation! My guests differed greatly in their socioeconomic class, their age, political identity, and a little bit in ethnicity. Many were related to me, but I was sure to choose relatives I rarely see and who were diverse in opinion, as well as to mix in guests I had never met.

For our food we had a barbecue. Because several of my guests struggle financially, and because my grandmother lives to entertain, she provided all the food. The dinner just so happened to be two days before the presidential election, which really highlighted the diversity of opinion. We started out with everyone being able to say that they had at least some family dinners with their families as children. Everyone wanted to live in a community that was inclusive and economically prosperous, but they all differed in how to get there. One of the clearest things was the diversity of thought between age groups. For example, my grandmother and grandfather view citizenship very personally. My grandmother worries about her family, keeps her home beautiful, and speaks to her neighbors, but does not have a strong sense of civic duty. My sister Alexia on the other hand, views citizenship as an act. For example, she talked about her opinions on the presidential election and the canvassing she was doing for her candidate. She has less of a burden for her own family and more of a burden for voting for the right political candidates to fix societal issues. With the presidential election so close, we talked about a lot of social issues and I worked really hard to keep the conversation from getting too heated, as I had the far right, far left, and moderates represented. Using the bridge metaphor, we could not agree on where we were as citizens or a nation, where we wanted to be, or how to get there because of social issues like abortion and transgender bathrooms that polarized us.  We could agree on small things, like playing our part to alleviate poverty and ensure that we have clean air in the future. With all the polarization at my table, I felt like it related to our reading about Morgellons where the author did not necessarily believe those that had Morgellons but empathized with them and tried to understand them. I spent my dinner observing and learning and empathizing with different opinions.  

The whole time I was trying to figure out how we could live better together. With people from all different walks of life represented at my table, how do we mix this diversity in a way that everyone has more say over their own lives? I arrived at the answer of empathy, not as an ultimate answer, but as a starting point. For example, my grandparents are aged in years and still have an issue with interracial marriage. They do not feel this is racism. I feel that it is, but I also know how their life experiences and upbringing have shaped them and I am able to empathize with them and try to understand their point of view. When my cousin Crystal married an Indian-American man named Ben that was hard for them, but they learned a lot when my cousin Crystal had Ben’s children and they fell in love with them. Their marriage and their children changed the whole dynamic of my family and empathy and patience with my grandparent’s opinions brought them where they are today.

Another example of how empathy helped us to live better together was throughout our political discussion. As much as I tried to keep the conversation on citizenship, with the election two days away much of the conversation revolved around policies of the candidates. My dinner became almost a deliberation, as I did my best to keep conversation respectful and thoughtful. We discussed policies and how we saw those policies affecting our nation and bettering or worsening out world. With the polarity of opinion, we did not reach any meaningful compromise, but we did practice speaking to each other. As we learned in our reading “How we Talk Matters”, this is an important concept. Talking is the first step to solving social issues, and even though we did not necessarily come to agreement on social issues, we learned to talk to one another and to empathize and keep one another’s life experiences in mind as we talk to one another. All in all, this was an enriching learning experience.

A Meal to Remember

By Jordan

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of going home to Hebron, Kentucky for the weekend and spending quality time with family and friends. The experience was extremely culturally enriching and intriguing. There were eight adults at the table including myself, my boyfriend of 2 years (Matt), and my parents (Herbie and Wendy). Although my family was there, the focus was on our guests and getting to know more about them, so I will limit my conversation mostly to them. One of the couples that joined us have been our close family friends for years. We met them through my brother’s baseball team where my father was able to coach their sons. Josh and Anne-Karina have been a blessing to us ever since. We have even had a few similar dinners with them at their own kitchen table in Covington, KY. The other couple was introduced to my family though my father’s work. Pedro has been an instrumental part of my dad’s construction “family” since we moved to Northern Kentucky. He has been a loyal foreman to my dad and an even more loyal friend. Peg, Pedro’s newly wedded wife, is also an instrumental part of my father’s work. She and Pedro met through their jobs, fell in love, and are now happily married. This was the first time I had the pleasure of making Peg’s acquaintance, although I had met Pedro a few times before.

Time spent with close friends and family is always a wonderful experience, but what made this dinner so special was the diversity around the table. Anne-Karina is originally from Austria and a native German speaker. She was drawn to America when she was offered a job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as a pulmonary research biologist. She met Josh here in America and together they have two children. Josh works in IT and was born and raised in Kentucky. Pedro was born in Fresno, California but moved back to Mexico, where most of his family still resides, shortly after he was born. When he was a teenager, he joined the U.S. Navy and took up boxing as a pass-time. He is still undefeated to this day. Peg is originally from San Fransisco and has never left the country, although she wishes to visit the land Pedro inherited in Mexico soon. Because everyone at the table has a different ethnic background, we asked each person to bring a dish that reflects their own heritage. My family made chicken and dumplings, a southern favorite; Anne-Karina and Josh brought Schnitzel with Austrian clove rice; and Pedro and Peg brought authentic enchiladas and tamales with Spanish rice and pico de gallo.

The meal was fantastic, but the conversations we had were even better. With different ethnic and cultural backgrounds comes different opinions on various matters. When asked what citizenship meant to each of them, the responses were extremely varied. Anne-Karina was the first to pipe up. She revealed that she does not have citizenship here in America, but she is a citizen of Austria and will remain so for the rest of her days. She has considered dual citizenship but “does not identify as an American” enough to go through the complex and time-consuming process. Although she is happy remaining an Austrian citizen exclusively, she still wishes she were able to vote. With only her green-card, she is taxed, but not represented, which troubles her greatly. Anne-Karina believes that voting is a responsibility, not a choice, if we are to be proper citizens. Because of this, she still votes for political titles in Austria even though she no longer resides there.  Conversely, Peg strongly dislikes politics and believes that all politicians are crooked. She does not exercise her right to vote and claims “she should be ashamed of herself” for not taking advantage of this right, but maintains that she could not have a clear conscience voting for a person she does not believe is fit for office. Peg also acknowledges that since she does not vote, she has no right to complain about policies set in place by government officials. She abides by the laws set in place and does not complain when things are not going her way in a political sense. Pedro does not vote either, but for a different reason than Peg. He is an American citizen but feels connected to Mexico just as Anne-Karina is connected to Austria. He abides by the laws of America but does not want anything to do with American politics. Josh was somewhere in the middle of these extremes. He is an American citizen who votes regularly, but is not overly-involved in politics.

There were also differences in opinion on social issues. We happened upon this issue after talking politics. Anne-Karina was the first to talk on her pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control opinions. She believes that a woman should be able to make the choice about her own body without government influence. Much of my family is very pro-life and conservative. Although we did not necessarily agree with her opinion on this issue, we were intrigued to hear a new viewpoint of this topic and understood how she could arrive at this opinion. This relates to what we have said in class about morality and opinion. We must be able to understand multiple viewpoints before we are able to reach our own educated decisions about topics. Although Pedro and Peg did not seem to have too much of an opinion on Anne-Karina’s pro-choice discussion, they did have something to say about gun control. Anne-Karina’s background in Europe has much to do with her pro-gun control stance. She explained that not many people in Europe have guns simply because they are under such high control and she believes that is why there are less mass shootings in Europe than in America. Pedro countered that with respect to his rough-around-the-edges childhood. He said that guns are a way to protect your own and maintain safety in America. Matt agreed with Pedro, saying that guns are so deeply rooted in our nation’s culture that even if we did control guns, people who wanted to use them for evil would still obtain them and good people would be left unprotected.

This experience was an extremely interesting one to say the least. The different viewpoints at the table brought so much enlightenment to me and my family. No one in my family has been outside of the United States and it was so interesting to see how people from different cultures view the world. It was very easy to see from this Kentucky Kitchen Table that Jonathan Haidt was right in his essay The Righteous Mind. The “elephants” of our friends were extremely prevalent, more so than their “riders”. Many of the beliefs expressed by the individuals at the table were due to past and cultural experience. Also, it is evident that not every issue has a “right and wrong” answer and that many are much more complex than that. We often assume our opinion is right simply because we are the one that reasoned it and deemed it to be morally acceptable. When listening to opinions that differed from my own however, my mind was opened to the possibility of other answers to difficult questions. From this dinner, I learned that it is important to listen to all sides of the story before passing judgement. We must be tolerant of others and give everyone a chance to express their opinions in a free and trusting environment so that we can have meaningful and insightful conversations about the world we live in.