Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Zora

Our dinner took place on April 15th, 2018 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In attendance was Jenny, Caroline, and Madeline, and Zora. Madeline made baked spaghetti with garlic bread, I brought my own food due to dietary restrictions, and Jenny and Caroline provided beverages and dinnerware. They are all college students at Western Kentucky University. Jenny and Caroline are both juniors and roommates. Jenny is studying nursing. While Caroline is studying advertising. Jenny was born in the United Kingdom and moved to the United States in elementary school. I think this is very interesting, because she has an outsiders opinion on several aspects of American culture, and could compare it to that of the United Kingdom. Caroline grew up in the Lexington area, a large city about two hours north of Bowling Green. Madeline is a sophomore, studying organizational leadership. She is from Scottsville, a small town south of Bowling Green. I am a freshman also at Western Kentucky University studying mathematical economics. I have lived in Bowling Green for the past five years, but I have moved several times across the United States due to my parents being social workers. I think having people from both different geographic and familial backgrounds gave our conversation more substance because we were able to bring our experiences from where we grew up to answer the various questions. We were able to use the different places we have all lived to compare the differences and similarities we see in Bowling Green.

Our dinner began with introductions, such as our names, our majors, and where we grew up. But as we got further into the conversation we began to focus on what being a citizen means; as well as, how we as citizens interact in our communities. One interesting point brought up throughout our dinner was how we all said having a greater sense of community would be ideal; however, several of our neighbors were not necessarily people we would want or trust in our houses, and we all have so many responsibilities it is hard to interact with those not in our immediate group of people we are surrounded with. For example, Caroline and Jenny’s’ families had both regularly held family meals around the table. They both remember these dinners very fondly. Caroline described the family dinners as a way for everyone to catch-up with each other. They talked about their days and anything important that was going on in their lives. Madeline and I both do not recall regularly having family meals. Although our experiences were very different, the main reason our families did not have family meals was due to all of us having different schedules. For my family, both of my parents worked at different places and had very irregular hours. I went to school, at some points in my life, an hour away. Our family meals were replaced by long car rides into the city each morning and afternoon, and on top of those rides, I had basketball practice every night. By the time we were all home it was too late to eat dinner. However, both Madeline and I agreed that it would have been nice to have family meals around the table because being able to have the time to catch up with one another could strengthen the familial bonds and create more of an awareness of what is happening in everyone’s lives. Jenny was the only one of us to have meals at neighbor’s houses. She said it was a way for everyone to know each other, and created a greater sense of community. Personally, I would feel uncomfortable having dinner at my neighbor’s house, but I think that this is only because I have never experienced it or had neighbors that I was close to. I think that this highlights the isolation in a lot of communities in the United States. We are very closed off and private. There are seldom neighborhood-wide events or regular interactions beyond waving as you drive by, and the once a year yard sale. Everyone is busy doing their own things, and we never have the time to talk to one another.

One reading that I feel related to a theme of our conversation was the chapters we read from Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maas. I think this reading relates because it talks about a community that has been destroyed by conflict and civil war. This is a far cry from isolation seen in Bowling Green, but it vaguely relates to the feeling lost connections and being unaware of what is going on around you. I do not have any meaningful contact with my neighbors, and I have no idea what they have going on in their lives even though we only live twenty feet from each other. Along with the lack of interaction, I also realized even though I have never interacted with my neighbors I still have a lack of trust for some them. Which was astounding to me, because how can you judge someone you have never talked to. I think this lack of community creates a sense of unease and misunderstanding, similar to that of the Bosnian war.

The central question I think our theme of the dinner related most to was, “how do we live better, or less terrible, together?” From our conversations, we all had an idea of what we wanted our community to be, but we originally lacked the way to get there. I think every idea we had was hindered by the simple fact the many people would possibly not participate and the conflicting schedules previously mentioned. However, after giving this topic more thought I think that even if some people do not participate, it is a step towards our ideal society. For example, this dinner I would have never voluntarily gone to a dinner at a stranger’s house but I’m glad I did. Through this dinner, I was able to meet and interact with people I would not have otherwise, and I made new connections within my community. With this dinner, I learned more about how I view society and what I want from it. I also learned that isolation can be transformed simply by having a meal with someone new.

Kentucky Kitchen Table in Bowling Green, KY.

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by Madeline

Our dinner took place in Bowling Green, KY on April 15th. Caroline, Jenny, and Zora attended. Our Kentucky Kitchen Table was a little unconventional since Zora and I were unable to have them at home with family, and I think this gave our KKT a unique college perspective! Caroline is a junior at Western Kentucky University majoring in advertising and grew up in the Lexington area. Jenny is a junior majoring in nursing originally from the United Kingdom, but moved to America when she was in elementary school. Zora is a freshman majoring in economics with aspirations to do law (also in Honors 251) and is from Bowling Green, but has moved around as both her parents are social workers. I’m from Scottsville, KY, a small town about 30 minutes south of Bowling Green. We had baked spaghetti with garlic bread, Zora brought special food as she is vegan. I made the food, but Caroline and Jenny provided their apartment and dinnerware.

We talked about what it means to be a citizen, on both a local and national level. Overall, everyone seemed to come to a consensus that citizenship is about being kind to one another. Jenny talked a lot of how her Christian faith led her to want to help and be kind to others. She wants to be a nurse, so her future is going to be centered around caring for other people. She said she wanted to be kind to people and have a good impression, because maybe one day she can share the love of Christ with them. She also talked of the difference between the United Kingdom and the United States in regard to kindness. She said in the U.K. everyone is in their own little world just trying to get from place to place, and that smiling or saying hello to a stranger would be strange. I feel like this is more of a Kentucky thing, but it made me feel good about being a U.S. citizen nonetheless.

When it came to eating around a kitchen table, Caroline and Jenny had, while Zora and I had not on a regular basis. Zora’s family has an odd schedule from both her parents being social workers, and they all have different eating habits. She said it would have been nice to have dinners together, comparing it to how she enjoys holidays with her family. For me, I lived with my single grandmother for years, and my mom and brother moved in with us when I turned 13. We all had different schedules and the kitchen table was never clean, so we had a lot of fast food and freezer meals. Because this was unconventional, we never really ate around the table together and definitely did not have any neighbors over. I always wished that that had been different, but it was hard to advocate for it at the time because no one else really wanted to. Caroline and Jenny both had positive experiences from eating at the table. Caroline said it was a sort of release to get to have that time with her family, in that it was a time to just relax and not think about anything else going on. I think eating at the table and having that conversation probably strengthens family relationships as well. If dinners have any of the same conversation that our Kentucky Kitchen Table did, they are most likely opinion shaping. I would say actually talking about these issues probably results in children having some of the same ideas as their parents, which is neither good nor bad, I just know that I have a completely liberal view on life in contrast to my grandmother, and it could be from not ever talking about it and how my opinions were shaped outside of the home.

When talking of what advice we would give to future politicians running for office our stances were centered around keeping people in mind. I feel this is odd in that political leaders should already be trying to represent the vast majority of people. Politics have become more about popularity, fame, and money than service to the country. It is sad that a group of college students are so disheartened by the government in our country, but maybe this can be some sort of fuel for change. When looking at the three questions that frame our class, I feel that this issue relates to them all. We can solve problems if we talk about the issues at hand. We can live better together push for change. We can have more of a say over our lives in just doing these things.

I also think it is interesting that everyone at the table wanted to be a good person that people respected. This seems like common sense, but how does chaos and evil break out if everyone in the world had a desire to do good? This relates to the Love Thy Neighbor readings by Peter Maass, that is surrounding the violence within the Bosnian War. Everything was normal and peaceful prior to war, a place like the United States. War was able to start out of what seems like nowhere. Misunderstanding and unresolved conflict is the core of fighting, and this dinner represents a grain of sand in the scheme of talking it out, but is still a representation of working to an understanding nonetheless.

This leads me to the overall way this dinner translated into the class for me. After a week of deliberations I realized this dinner represented something much bigger that society is lacking. The key thing that tied this dinner and deliberation together is conversation. One thing that I feel people really are not good at today is talking about issues. People never want to listen to opposing opinions. I think this has led to the younger generations just staying out of all of it, not wanting to engage in confrontation that actually should just be conversation. In the David Brook’s article If it Feels Right he talks about this, in that people just go with “what feels right” in the moment, rather than analyzing and coming up with new ideas of what is right.

Eating with my peers was refreshing, and I came out of my Kentucky Kitchen Table with a better understanding of how this small dinner can relate to the overall themes of the class. I feel like sharing this experience with college students made the dinner different, but did not affect the depth of the assignment.

Kentucky’s Kitchen Table: A Reflection on Discomfort

By Chloe

My name is Chloe and for my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table assignment, I had my meal at a cabin in Stanton, Kentucky. It was held at Bailey’s family cabin in a gated community. We were joined by her mother Barbara, some of her friends that were from Spencer and some that go to Western. Barbara said that she would make all of the food, unless people wanted to bring things. Mhari and Lydia made burgers and hot dogs on the grill, while Shaban made his special spicy-soup-that’s-sometimes-a-sauce. Tiger brought the music and Silas brought his poetry book. I brought the dessert (cookies and cakes from Kroger of course). Also present were Chris and Emily, though they did not bring anything with them besides their personalities. I had never met Chris, Emily, Tiger, and Shaban before this meal.
Lydia is from Louisville and she went to the Brown School. She is a sophomore at Western. She went there for most of her life, as it is a kindergarten through twelfth grade school. Her mom is a guidance counselor at Presentation Academy and her dad works on a boat. Lydia says that she gets her creativity from her dad and her sass from her mom. They live in a big green house with one cat. Lydia has many tattoos, though most of them don’t mean anything; she just thought they were pretty.
Mhari and Tiger are both from Oldham County where they went to high school together. Lydia says, “They’re not dating but they’re also not not dating. Ya know?” Mhari and Tiger are both juniors at Western. Mhari smells perpetually of vanilla and cardamom and has a loud infectious laugh that makes one feel included and warm. Tiger is quieter and subtler, but he’s profoundly witty once you can hear what he is saying. His family is of Asian descent, and he has proudly dubbed himself the “coolest Asian any of you all know.” Both of them wear old glasses that are now too big for their heads because they have been stretched out but they both also refuse to get them fixed.
Shaban grew up in Virginia but he was born in a small country in Africa. When asked which country, he replies, “You won’t know what it is. No American has ever heard of it.” He speaks with a faint accent that comes out more when asked about his childhood. He loves NPR, green pants, and funky sweaters. His best friend, Morgan, is in Denmark right now studying at The Danish School and he speaks of her often.
Silas was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. His house sits on a plot of land that used to be a Christmas tree farm and he says that they are still everywhere, growing in neat rows. His mom was a school teacher before she retired and decided to homeschool him. He went to high school with other kids who had been homeschooled their whole lives too. Mhari and Lydia say that Silas has the purest heart of anyone they know. He is soft spoken and agreeable, calm and fun. He says that he used to have long thick hair before he cut it over the winter break while he was in Israel.
Chris is from the suburbs of Chicago and is a freshman at Western. Bailey and Emily are both from Spencer. Bailey goes to Western but Emily is still in high school. Bailey’s mom Barbara has short greying hair that she refuses to dye, much to her daughter’s protest. She enjoys watching British baking shows and assorted cartoons. She is clever and sharp.
Silas had brought a book of poetry with him and Tiger started reading some of the poems aloud to us as we were making dinner and preparing the table. Many of the poems were gloomy and dark, but they were certainly thought provoking. It was a book that seemed to be a lot about loving people, living amongst people and leaving people. It had themes of self-worth, inner strength, identity and false love. Everyone seemed to have incredibly different thoughts about them, though we all certainly agreed that the book was a bit of a downer. The girls seemed to have more opinions and thoughts about the ones related to self-worth and inner strength. We talked about how much beauty is drilled into girls’ brains from the very start and how damaging it is. Lydia is tall and thin and was told quite often that she has the body of a model, but was also told by boys that she didn’t have enough curves to be appealing. Mhari was told the opposite; she has too many curves to be appealing. Neither one could change their body, short of surgery, yet still had to listen to these things be said to them. It’s hard to love your appearance and feel worthy of much when people are telling you that the way that you were born is not good enough. No one has control over how they naturally look. I didn’t ask to be short, Lydia didn’t ask to be rail thin, and Mhari didn’t ask to be curvy, yet that’s what we all use to base our confidence on. It’s hard to find balance in it all when there’s so many kinds of bodies and looks but there only seems to be one kind of perfect.
We all agreed that the book was an odd contrast to Silas’s personality, which is generally light and pleasant. It’s a weird thing to think about the differences between what people think and what they actually say out loud to other people. I wasn’t sure if this was an instance in which Silas was reading the book because he wanted to expose himself to thinking that doesn’t really coincide with his own, or if he chose the book because the thinking does coincide with his own.
When I asked the group about their thoughts on the meaning of citizenship, Shaban was perhaps the most passionate. He was the only one out of the bunch that is not a natural born American citizen and you only have to speak with him for a short time to realize that he is incredibly proud of his heritage. He was born in Africa, but he didn’t live there long and America is what he knows best. He believes that citizenship goes beyond documents and regulations and dives deeper into passion. To him, citizenship is how one feels about their country. Documents are necessary but so is genuine love and appreciation. The rest of us at the meal can’t ever fully understand what he was saying to us because we have never experienced what he has. We, as natural born citizens in an incredibly fortunate country, take for granted so many things: grocery stores, indoor plumbing, cars, electricity. Obviously, I know that my life has been a cotton candy cloud compared to people living in third world countries and impoverished places. This wasn’t a new revelation to me but it was still a jarring experience. It’s always weird to be hit in the face with your own privilege. I take so much for granted, as many people do, because we haven’t ever had to live differently. I will never go hungry or lack electricity for years, but Shaban has. He got out of that and he came to America. Now that he’s here, he faces entirely different problems. I will never get pulled over by a police officer based upon the color of my skin or be discriminated against because of the way that I speak, but Shaban has. American people meet him and make up their minds about him without even really knowing him. Why bother coming to a new country when people there are going to treat you terribly? You have to choose between two evils. At least here you can survive, though you won’t always be treated respectfully. You choose survival so you can be around people that are terrible to you. How is that okay? It’s not, but it seems to be reality right now.
How can we live better together? Maybe we could start by not being racist. How do we do that? How do we change the minds of people that have it so ingrained in their brains that they are superior because of the color of their skin? We moved on from this topic to talk about where we live, our neighbors, what we want to do with our lives, and so many other things but I really got stuck on this first topic. I couldn’t move past it. I just wanted to grab all of the people that have ever been terrible to people of different races and shake them. Why are you like this? Why do you believe this to be true? I don’t think that any of them would have been able to give me an answer I was okay with, and maybe that’s what I want. I don’t want an answer I’m okay with because then I have to forgive them and stop being angry. Obviously, that goes against everything that we’ve learned in this class this semester. We can’t live better together or have more of a say over our lives if we’re so blinded by anger that we can’t even see straight.
The whole time Shaban was talking, I kept thinking about Claudia Rankine and Citizen. Rankine wrote about little micro-aggressions that she’s dealt with her whole life. People talking to her in “black talk” or saying stupid things that they didn’t mean to say out loud. Things that I don’t and won’t ever have to deal with, but she deals with every day. I don’t know if I’m really allowed to be angry about them on her behalf but I am.

Throughout Honors 251, we have talked about social issues and wicked problems. We talk about the things that no one wants to talk about and the things that people don’t know that they should be talking about. It has been eye opening in that it has forced me to not only see the point of view of others but also figure out how I myself feel about things. I have avoided thinking about heavy things for the longest time because they generally seem to bum me out or make me anxious. Having to do this dinner and this assignment was wonderful because I met new people who are very different than I am but I also got to know some of my friends better than I did before and it forced me to think about things that I don’t usually like to think about. I think that everyone should be forced to confront the things that make them uncomfortable because that is when you really seem to figure out who you are and what you believe.

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Shaban’s special “spicy-soup-that’s-sometimes-a-sauce” : chicken edition

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Making dinner on the grill!                   (Left to Right) Tiger, Lydia, Mhari, Silas, Emily

Brandon’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Brandon

IMG_0832Left to Right: Me, Brandon, Dad, Mom, Ian, Braxton, Chapel, Sharon, Manyoo, Tricia

I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table at a good family friend’s house here in Bowling Green. The hostess, Tricia, is no stranger to friendly gatherings. She hosts small group bible studies occasionally throughout the year with potluck style dinners, so we’ve been unintentionally practicing for this for a few years. I could not think of a warmer house to have my KKT in.

Her husband, Ian, was born in Zimbabwe. His parents were missionaries so he grew up in South Africa. He came to America to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering at WKU. He has a fun accent.

I got to know them initially through their son, Brandon (he has the same name as me). We became friends in Middle School and have stayed friends since. He’s studying Advertising.

Brandon’s younger brother Braxton was hanging around too. He’s homeschooled, but also heavily involved in community sports.

As a whole, they’re all fairly conservative and strong Christians. Tricia is a stay-at-home mom that homeschools her kids, as well as a freelance writer.

My mom and dad are pictured on the left, in between Brandon and Ian. They like coming to Tricia’s house as much as me. My dad is a retired IRS agent and conservative. He grew up in East Tennessee. Mom works as a secretary for a federal probation office. She’s a registered Democrat but mostly stays out of politics. Overall, she’s a very optimistic person.

Across from them sat Ian’s brother’s family. His brother couldn’t make it, but his brother’s wife Sharon was there with their two adopted Korean children, Chapel and Manyoo. Sharon is a stay-at-home mom and a part-time substitute teacher. She’s also fairly conservative.

I’d never met Sharon and her kids before, despite knowing Tricia’s family for five years. Sharon’s pleasant to talk to and she was always one of the first to answer the questions. Chapel’s kinda shy and Manyoo is the opposite of shy.

Dinner started off with general conversation around the table. I waited until everyone was seated and had had the chance to eat a good portion of their meal before asking the first question. As for the food itself, my dad made some of his good ol’ homemade chili, Tricia made some excellent lasagna, and Sharon brought Korean potstickers. All of it was quite excellent.

I asked the required citizenship question first. It created a lot of blank stares and “Hmmmm” responses. Granted, it’s not something we really think about on a daily basis, or much at all, so I waited patiently for an answer.

Sharon was the first to give an answer. “Freedom,” she said. Everyone quickly echoed the sentiment. Group consensus wasn’t my goal, but everyone could get behind freedom, myself included, so I segued into the next question.

I asked what advice they would give to the people running for office in our country and there sure wasn’t any hesitation in the answer to that. Ian said, “Listen to the people,” and others added on variations of this sentiment. He said people are tired of feeling underrepresented and that if the people in charge actually listened to the people that put them in charge, then the country would be much better off. I noticed a distinct lack of politicization for either side in the answers, which I thought was interesting.

I stirred the pot with the next question, asking “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Brandon responded immediately with “Abortion” with the rest of his family backing him up. Tricia elaborated by explaining why it was important to them, citing the Bible and their belief in the sanctity of life, beginning at conception.

Sharon gave a slightly broader answer of “Family Life.” She talked about prioritizing her family, and how many of the things wrong with modern America had to do with the degradation of family values, such as the acceptance of gay marriage and a lack of child discipline.

The mood got very serious so I decided to lighten it by asking “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” This proved to be the most decisive questions of the night, though not in a bad way.

Ian said technology was one of the best things about the world, citing how it’s improved countless lives and brings people from all over the world together. Tricia reacted with surprise and said she thought technology was one of the worst things about the world. She elaborated on how people are addicted to today’s technology and have given in to instant gratification because of it.

I personally sided with Ian, partially because I’m optimistic but also because it goes along with our class discussions of bringing everyone together. Modern technology can be a double-edged sword, but overall I think it has massively benefited society.

Sharon had a completely different answer. She spoke of nature as one of the best things in the world and how the natural beauty of the world was something worth cherishing and protecting. It was a very inspiring answer.

I followed up with “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Since almost everyone present grew up in a different state (or country), I expected different answers, however, there was a common consensus that “community” and “friendliness” were what defined Bowling Green. Ian said community wasn’t nearly as valued in South Africa as it is here, which surprised me.

Sharon and Tricia both spoke highly of how everyone is willing to put aside their differences and come together for a common cause during times of distress, both on a national and local level, and that that was one of the things that made the U.S. unique. It was a nice, optimistic upswing. Everyone was smiling.

They kept wanting to answer more questions, so I kept asking them, even though everyone had already eaten dessert. They were really into it.

I asked the question about having meals around the table with your family growing up, and my dad took point on that one. He told us how his dad (my grandfather) worked a rotating shift at a factory when he was growing up, and even though his hours changed, he always tried to eat with his family whenever he could.

I always like hearing new details about my dad’s life growing up. He only tells these kinds of stories with friends, and most are ones I haven’t heard before. It was one of the little things that stuck with me.

All of the others said they ate with their families growing up as well. Sharon nudged Chapel into talking by asking her directly if they have dinner as a family. She gave a shy, “Yes.”

Most everyone highly valued having dinner with the family. Tricia said growing up she didn’t even know some families didn’t eat dinner together, and that it was a sad trend that more families weren’t eating together. Ian said he did it with his family in South Africa.

We ended the night with the soul-searching question “What kind of person do you want to be?” Manyoo gave the humorously vague answer of wanting to be a “good” person. Chapel tried to copy his answer, and after a few synonyms, Sharon gave up on trying to get a different answer out of her.

Interestingly, the adults answered the question not on who they want to be, but how they want to be remembered. At least, that was the common theme of their answers.

Ian wanted to be remembered as a kind, generous person, and after some prompting, he told us a story demonstrating these virtues. Several years ago during Thanksgiving, Ian was driving home to his family when he saw a car broke down on the side of the road with a black man standing next to it. He pulled over to offer his assistance, and the man said his car had a flat tire.

Ian called several different tire sellers to try to find the tire the guy needed, but it was an unusual brand of tire and the only place that had them was the Walmart in Franklin, KY. So, being the ultimate nice guy, Ian drove the man down to Franklin and waited with him until the auto center opened. Once the man bought his tire, Ian drove him back to his car.

It was really late by this time as the whole ordeal took about six hours. The man thanked Ian profusely and they went their separate ways. It was a rather heartwarming tale.

My mom said she wanted to be remembered as a do-gooder, even though doing good sometimes resulted in her getting taken advantage of by others. My dad said something similar.

Brandon didn’t give a serious answer. I said I wanted to stay the course and continue doing what I was doing. Tricia ended it by saying she wanted to leave behind a positive legacy for others to follow.

I thanked everyone for coming and gave Tricia a hostess gift. Overall, the discussion went really well and everyone enjoyed themselves. I learned that even though we all came from diverse geographic and demographic backgrounds, we all more or less wanted the same thing: To live good lives and be good people. It sounds cliche, but hey, life’s cliche. I was reminded of the article “How We Talk Matters” as the dinner showed that civil discourse is not only possible but can also be enjoyable. I walked away with a new appreciation for simple, dinner conversation.

 

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.

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table

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My kitchen table project was set in Louisville, Kentucky. Michael, Kristin, Peter, Charlie, and Josh ate dinner with me (Sarah) at my family’s home. Michael is my father who used to work for General Electric, and now works for First Build. Kristin is my mother who works as a stay at home mom and substitute teacher. Peter is an exchange student from China who goes to Josh’s school. Josh is my younger brother, a sophomore in high school. Last, but not least, Charlie is my older brother. He also attends Western Kentucky University and is a junior. Mike did not want to be included in the photograph.

We all helped participate in making the dinner, splitting the jobs of shredding the cheese to help make the pasta, baking the chicken, and boiling the green beans.

“Citizenship means being able to govern ourselves,” Mike said as he answered the question “what does citizenship mean to you?” He went on to explain how citizenship in the United States gave people freedom that some countries do not have.

We went on to discuss what each person believed what the best thing about our world today is. In Peter’s opinion, the best thing is the temporary peace. However, Josh stated that technology is the best thing about the world. This single question began to show how different viewpoints can shape opinions and have a result that is completely different than the person next to them.

Peter’s answer of peace made sense, as he came from China. Many people are still in danger in China, whereas the United States is a free country. In Peter’s eyes, that is peace.

Josh, on the other hand, has been raised with the privilege of freedom. Technology has been centered in his life through school work and communication as well as appliances and other things. Technology is the world to him, so that is why he answered with that.

Mike stated that his favorite thing about the world today is life. He is content with just living and breathing.

“I love breathing, man,” he said. “Let me tell you something, we are blessed.”

He also loves the diversity of nature and the beauty of the world itself.

When asked what he wanted to live in, Josh once again responded with a twenty-first-century answer. He mentioned wanting to live in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is an area in southern San Francisco, where there is a lot of technology and businesses.

When Peter answered what he liked most about living in China, his answer was simple: food. He loves the traditional Chinese food. During the dinner, Peter mentioned how much he missed it, but he also enjoyed the food we ate in the United States.

Mike and Josh agreed that the one thing they love most about living in the United States is the freedom we are given. They are able to do what they want to do (legally, of course), and go where they want to go, when they want to. Religion is not persecuted in the United States, so they are also free to believe what they want to.

Mike and Kirstin both agreed that it is important as a society to get to know your neighbors. That way, a community can be built within the neighborhood. Within a strong community, people can communicate and help each other out. However, Josh’s point of view was quite different.

Josh believed that there was not a point to knowing his neighbors, as he wasn’t doing anything with them like talking to or working with them. In his words, “there’s no need for me to interact with them.”

Peter knew his neighbors from China because his father worked with them.

When we discussed how our jobs influence others, everyone agreed. No matter whether someone’s job is in a business or a teaching job, the way people interact with others matters. First impressions especially stand out. Many jobs require connections. Connections are made by creating a relationship between people, and most people would like that relationship to be a positive one.

Those in the dinner did not have much advice to give to the people running or office. This is because none of us are smart enough, have the experience, nor are planning to run for office in the future. Charlie, however, eventually gave a firm, well thought out advice that everyone could take into thought. Charlie did not participate in the discussion too much, but he finally had something to say. “Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient,” Charlie advised.

Religion can make an impact on how people treat other people, but it does not have to. Christianity, for example, tells believers to treat everyone with love and kindness, but someone does not have to be a Christian to have those traits. Religion may have certain guidelines for morals, but even those who are not religious do, too.

This conversation helped me learn more about how age can shape views. For example, the younger participants cared more about technology and money, whereas the older participants cared about the community and helping others. This may be caused by the increase of social media and technology, which the younger participants had grown up with. The older participants, however, were used to getting to know people in person and building relationships.

This connects to the class because we are learning about how we can work together as a community. Without community, problems cannot be solved very well. In order to solve issues together, the community needs to get along and understand where each other is coming from so that they can work together in a peaceful environment and avoid conflict as best as they can.

Growing up in different countries also changes perspectives. Peter, for example, comes from a persecuted family in China, whereas Josh comes from a privileged family in the United States. Peter focused on what he believes to be the temporary peace that is seemingly spread around the world, whereas Josh focused his part of the conversation in angling back to the advancement in technology.

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.

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Related, not Synonymous

By CarolineCaroline Camfield Kentucky Kitchen Table

San Diego, Switzerland, New Orleans, Charleston, Cincinnati, California, Louisville, Bowling Green: Out of everyone at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, at least two (if not three or four) had been to all of these places. Part of the reason, everyone (besides me that is) is at least related by marriage and can be tied into my jump rope coach, who hosted the dinner in her home; Julie, a 60-year-old mother of one, who after growing up in Louisville, KY and attending college at Western Kentucky University, spent several years travelling across the globe, utilizing her master’s degree in teaching to teach English as a Second Language in Europe. This is where her husband David is from (although they actually met at a hotel in California, and her sister Lynn was the one to meet him first.) David, a Swiss immigrant first came to the United States as an adult to travel and did not plan on actually moving here until he met Julie and they married. After Julie and he returned to her hometown of Louisville, David attended the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering and currently works as an engineer. Julie’s sister Lynn, who is 5 years older than her sister, also grew up in Louisville and attended Western Kentucky University. After college, however, she worked in the field of social work until Julie convinced her to join her in some of her travels (which because her and her husband Paul don’t have any children they still spend a large amount of time travelling.) Currently, Lynn lives in Northern Kentucky and just recently retired from being a preschool teacher at a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Paul grew up in California with “libertarian parents” who’s views did not necessarily align with his own; he worked in New Orleans as a cab driver for several years (before he moved to Northern Kentucky) and currently works as a substitute math teacher.  Then finally, there is Julie’s daughter, Murray, a 20-year-old college student who followed in her Aunt and Mother’s footsteps and attended Western Kentucky University and is currently a math and English double-major.

The dietary constraints at the meal were almost as diverse as the places everyone had travelled; from vegan to paleo to vegetarian, almost everyone had their own unique considerations when it came to choosing what foods to bring. However, since the two people following the vegan and paleo diets are somewhat relaxed in maintaining these diets, especially when desserts are involved, they weren’t taken into account for a few of the food choices. To the meal, I provided the first and last courses (even though not everyone ate them in that order); I brought a salad consisting of assorted greens, fresh cut corn, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, and individual bread pudding cups topped with bourbon sauce for dessert. For our main dish, Julie baked a layered spinach and tomato pasta dish she makes frequently enough for her daughter that I’ve had it a few times before when I was at their house. Lynn and Paul both contributed fresh fruit, cubed pineapple and chocolate-covered strawberries, respectively. David provided asiago and cinnamon crunch bagels from Panera (since he receives a free bagel everyday this month, which is quite fitting since the majority of us at the table partake in as many opportunities to receive and utilize free-food offers as we can.) And finally, Murray contributed milk to the table and while not everyone drank it, it did lead to her telling the story of how she convinced a few young jumpers from the jump rope team in Trinidad and Tobago that since she drank milk at meals other than breakfast, she calls herself a milk girl. And this was how the majority of the dinner went; sometimes ideas and beliefs were stated explicitly but mostly they were woven into the conversations through stories.

This idea became especially clear when I asked he table what their ideal community would be, because, for the most part, they answered with locations they’ve previously lived instead of descriptions of the qualities of a community like I expected. This highlights how everyone, except for Murray and me, is very well traveled and their travels have all impacted their lives in some way. Julie was first one to answer this question and declared she wanted to live in a beach community (and later changed it to an alternative beach community/co-op once hearing everyone else’s ideas.) This was another theme throughout the meal, everyone was fairly willing to change their ideas of what they wanted after someone else had an idea they liked better. This ties back into the concept of the Elephant and the Rider, discussed in the except we read in class from Haidt’s Righteous Mind, since while everyone’s elephant initially led them in one direction, the elephant was sometimes very easily swayed to another when it thought that that could be a better option (leaving the rider to adjust the justifications accordingly.) As for everyone else, Paul wanted to move back down to New Orleans because of the unique atmosphere there and the diverse group of people he encountered while working as a taxi-driver. When first asked the question, Lynn described how she’d live in a diverse community, like Paul, enjoying the variety of perspectives that subsequently arise out of diverse backgrounds (but then after hearing the rest of the table’s responses, she changed hers to a beach community, which depending on the exact location can prove to be a diverse mixture many different demographics.)

Since the overall dynamic at the table promoted the sharing of stories, which, as it oftentimes does, got off topic, preventing everyone from explicitly sharing their ideas of what they believe it means to be a citizen, the viewpoints that were shared surprisingly varied more than their answers to every other topic that was mentioned (although unsurprisingly their responses still fed off of one another quite a bit.) Lynn was the first to answer and described her belief that being a citizen gives you the right to peacefully protest, and thus influence how society is run. Paul almost directly opposed this by describing how he believed that while being a citizen gives you the ability to protest, he enjoys how you also have the ability and freedom to stay quiet if you are so inclined due to the freedom of speech. Furthermore, he emphasized how ideally, all freedoms would be granted and respected by society (which while it would eliminate the need for some protest it would depend on having an almost perfect society.) Murray then proceeded to explain that while she believes being a citizen does give you the ability to not voice your opinion if you don’t want to, she also believes speaking up for others with less privilege (and who aren’t able to do so) is an obligation. Her ideas fed off both her aunt and uncle’s, agreeing and disagreeing with ideas from both, which goes to show that while she grew up hearing their beliefs, she has still formed her own and not just conformed to the ones surrounding her. For the most part, everyone did have their own distinct beliefs concerning each topic we discussed, yet at times everyone was more than willing to adapt their ideas to someone else’s if a new idea was presented. This openness caught me by surprise a little since the dynamic in many families merely focuses on convincing others of your beliefs instead of actually listening to what everyone thought.

At this table especially, everyone brought a set of their own fairly unique experiences, which in turn influenced their opinions. When discussing social issues that were closest to our heart, Lynn mentioned that she witnessed racism occur between people of both the same race and of different ones while teaching at her school, even though the population there consisted almost entirely of African Americans. Yet through talking with other teachers and students, she was able to adapt her perspectives to accommodate their experiences that she sympathized with, yet would never truly experience. Likewise, Paul felt that education was important to him, stemming from his current job, and David said that the decreasing middle class was an issue needing to be addressed since he is a part of that demographic. Murray followed this trend by saying, somewhat indecisively, that animal rights and sustainability were both issues she felt connected to (especially animal rights since, as she explained, it was only after learning that animals were treated so poorly before they were processed into food for consumption that she eliminated the already minimal amount of meat from her diet.) She then followed up with the statement that while these two issues matter to her, she realizes they aren’t the most pressing issues faced by society; in addition, she also believes that LGBTQ rights and feminine equality are important, even though she may not be able to influence the causes as directly as she can with the other two. Out of everyone’s responses, Murray was the only one who mentioned an example of actually making an effort to combat the social issue they felt closest to, and although this could be because some of the other issues are broader and could be more intimidating to tackle, it may also signify a generational change, or a combination of both if young adults today are standing up not for the broader issues, but for more specific ones, and by doing so they feel more able to make an impact and thus are attempting to do so.

Kentucky Kitchen Table: A Dinner with Diversity

IMG_2420By Emily

Coming from a small town, it can be hard to find diverse individuals. When I first looked over the Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I was absolutely clueless as to who I could invite. Yet, when I really started to look, I found a large amount of diversity in the least likely of places. The dinner was one in which gave me hope for the future of our country and of our world. Having the opportunity to discuss varying topics with many interesting and diverse individuals made me an aware and open-minded citizen, and I cannot wait to share just how much I learned!

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my hometown: Marion, Kentucky. I decided to invite some family friends of ours who have deep Italian, Croatian, and Catholic backgrounds. Johnny and Tiffany are a young couple with two daughters that are the same age as my sister. Johnny’s parents came from Italy and raised his siblings in Chicago for most of their lives. They then moved to Marion where they had Johnny. Johnny’s wife Tiffany, an English teacher at the local middle school, was born in Marion but has experienced many interesting and large family gatherings full of Italian and Croatian culture. She is an only child, so Johnny’s Italian family was a bit overwhelming for her at first, and even still is today. Johnny and Tiffany brought alfredo, spaghetti, and lasagna to the dinner. I then decided to invite some friends of my mother’s, of whom I had never met before. Rudy and Arlena are an older couple who have traveled the world because of Rudy’s twenty-three and half years in the military. They have lived in Holland, Germany, and Korea. Arlena prepared a special dessert dish from Holland that is popular on New Year’s Day. It was called oilbollen, a sort of powdered Dutch donut. Lastly, my father decided to join our dinner and prepared a large salad for the meal.

Throughout the dinner, we discussed many pressing issues regarding democracy and citizenship. Rudy, Arlena, Tiffany, and Johnny were all extremely active in discussing each question I asked. I began by asking the required question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” They all responded similarly. Above all, they believed each American citizen should also have great respect. “We should all have respect for each other, respect for the flag, respect for those who have served, and respect for the elderly. This is an amazing country, and we’re very blessed to live here,” replied Rudy. Everyone agreed, especially Johnny. With family who immigrated to America, they often stressed how important it was to have respect for our country. Johnny’s grandfather took extremely huge pride in being an American citizen because of how hard he had to work to get here. Growing up, Johnny was accustomed to seeing both sides of being an American citizen. One from an immigrant’s point of view, and one from a natural born citizens’.

This led to the next question about the best things about our world today. They were all hesitant to answer at first, even mentioning that it was a difficult question. They loved the idea of the internet. Growing up, Arlena’s grandmother always used a special set of encyclopedias to research and discover new things. She would have loved how convenient and easy the internet makes our lives. “It has made the world a smaller place, one where it’s much easier to communicate,” said Arlena. With both children in the military, it was easy to communicate through Skype. However, above anything else, they believed the best thing about the way we live is our freedom of choice. From personal experience, they have seen the way other countries operate. They were grateful that they have the choice to do what they want when they want. They can choose to live where they want, to worship who they want, say what they feel, and wear what they want. That is why they believe more of us should have respect for our country. “Sometimes I think we forget how truly lucky we are. We like to focus on all the negative, when really we have great lives compared to many overseas,” replied Rudy. Everyone at the table agreed that they were very lucky to live the way they do with who they do.

Living in small town, it isn’t uncommon to build relationships with your neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances. Growing up in Marion, I remember many times in which our community would come together to help others and support those who were going through a tough time. Rudy regularly visits many elderly widows that live close by, often mowing their grass, bringing them dinner, and checking in on them. Recently, Tiffany started a Consignment Closet at the middle school to help children who cannot afford nice clothes and shoes. All items and clothing are free to students and they can take as much as they want or need. “When something bad happens, people of our town come together to support one another. If one of us hurts, we all hurt. People here stop and take time to get to know you. It’s a place where you feel safe.” As an educator, Tiffany believes her career relates a great deal to being a citizen. She takes part in raising the children of our community to be respectful and caring citizens. She was amazed by how much she influenced the lives of those children. She proceeded to tell a story regarding a young boy in which she had had in class. This child was always getting in trouble and always fighting with her. She punished him for misbehaving and worked endlessly with him to improve his grades. Close to six years later, after he had graduated high school and left for college, she received a call from the same young man. While he was on the phone he apologized for the way he had treated her, but he also wanted her help. He began to tell her that he’d worked hard in college and that he had found a girl whom he loved very much. Coming from a bad home life, he didn’t have a mother to ask for help in proposing to the woman he loved. He wanted Tiffany’s help in choosing the ring. All the fighting and stress that had come six years earlier, suddenly made Tiffany realize that she had done something right. The young man respected her for how hard she had worked for him. Much like Tiffany’s career, Rudy’s career in the military obviously played a great deal in his part as a citizen. He served twenty-three years in the military and eighteen years in the Department of Correction. His son served four years in the Air Force and his daughter served twelve years. Even his son-in-law has served in the military. Because of this, he is full of appreciation and respect for those who have fought.

I then proceeded to tell the group about the video we watched in class of the little girl in China who was ignored by others after being run over. They were all mortified. We discussed the question about whether or not they believed their religion had anything to do with helping others. To all of them, it wasn’t just religion that influenced them to help, but human nature. They all believed that they had a moral obligation to care and watch out for others. Arlena told us about the Bible study she leads at the correctional complex for women. She believes in making sure these women realize that they are still capable of doing good in our world. She was positive that even if she wasn’t religious she would still try to help these women and many others living in her country. My father finally jumped in, saying he couldn’t help but want to help others if they were in trouble or hurting. That was just the way he was taught growing up. However, it’s important to realize that in other cultures it may not be the same. We then moved to the next question: Did you have meals around the table growing up? Did you enjoy them? Johnny’s Italian family takes meals very seriously. Every Sunday they eat meals after church at his parent’s house where it isn’t uncommon to have nearly forty people in attendance. He loved growing up with such a large family and still loves it to this day. It is what truly molded him into who he is and how he teaches his own children. The dinner finally wrapped up a great deal later, after discussing many overseas adventures and childhood memories.

With the theme of respect in my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I think this relates a great deal to our class as a whole. In order to solve problems, live well together, and have more say over what our lives look like, we must have respect for others. We must have respect for their beliefs and their opinions. In Keith Melville’s “How We Talk Matters,” he explains, saying “Talk is the essential ingredient of politics. It not only shapes decisions, it shapes us — our thinking, and our understanding of ourselves and others, our way of dealing with conflict and differences.” Throughout the dinner, each individual talked in a way that respected the others’ beliefs and they whole heartedly agreed that it was essential in order for our country to move forward. It was an amazing experience to have the opportunity to see a group of diverse individuals come together and talk in way that represented the very core of our class. They all discussed each topic with respect for one another and their opinions, leading to a dinner that lasted well over two hours. I learned a great deal about what is was like to grow up in a time where they did not have the technological advances we do today, and also of other cultures around the world. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my Kentucky Kitchen Table. This was an incredible experience!

It’s All About Talking and Listening

By Caroline

When initially looking at the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment, I knew that I would love to bring this fascinating project to my hometown because it would not only allow me to further my knowledge of this class but would expand my idea of people in my own community as well. With that being said, on fall break, Lebanon, KY was in for a delightful treat in my hometown household. Contemplating who I would invite, I wanted to bring a tasteful diversity to the table and immediately came up with a total of 5 people: my former AP Human Geography & Psychology teacher, Jamie, her husband, Chris, a woman in my community who is of Hispanic ethnicity, Kenya, and my mother and father, Jim and Sharon. To begin with, Jamie is someone I do know very well being that she is one of my past teachers, but she brings very diverse experiences to the group in the fact that she has traveled to many cultures around the world and has a large amount of knowledge regarding the potential topics for the kitchen table. Her husband, Chris, is someone I do not know very well, but I quickly realized that he has served in the army and brings a plethora of personal stories that added flavor to our discussions. I also invited Kenya who is a woman that lives in my community that I am not as familiar with, but she brought a very different perspective since she is of Hispanic ethnicity and has lived in both the United States and Mexico. Lastly, my mother and father attended and were both delighted to host this project in the welcoming hospitality of our home. My mother works in the emergency room in our local hospital, and my father is the loan officer and Vice President of a bank in my town. My mother, being the host, decided that she would make a meal which consisted of a scrumptious meat loaf, mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans, but she said that if anyone wanted to bring a dish they could. Kenya made authentic Mexican chicken tacos with a side of guacamole, Jamie made a coconut bar dessert (which was a hit), and Chris made potato soup.  I quickly realized that it was very neat with the people that I invited because everyone who attended either didn’t know each other very well or were complete strangers, so it made the discussions that much more interesting.

To begin the conversation, I explained to the group what the Kentucky Kitchen Table was and what all it encompasses. My father then said the grace, and we began eating and talking right away. I commenced the discussion by introducing the first question regarding what citizenship means to us, beyond simply voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Jamie jumped right to the question in saying that citizenship comes down to being loyal to one’s country and truly holding everything that your country values close to your heart. However, Kenya introduced the idea that she has witnessed citizenship from an outsider’s perspective and a US citizen’s point of view as well because in Mexico, unlike the United States, people do not “hang the flag in every corner you turn” and are less likely to praise and show citizenship to their country. She noticed that as Americans, we show citizenship much more outwardly than other places. However, my father mentioned that “giving back to our country and community” is a definite way to show citizenship whether that is simply serving your community or even country. With that said, we realized that Chris has served in the army, and he shared many of his stories of his time serving the United States. One being, he was in Germany when the Berlin Wall was being taken down which was a very eye-opening experience for him. Through his experience, citizenship to him means wholeheartedly serving his country. With Chris talking about his time fighting for our nation, it quickly led to a discussion about gun violence with the recent horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. Although we all tried to come up with solutions to this “wicked problem”, we each realized that there was no one solution. I explained to them that in class, we learned that there really is no solution to a wicked problem like mass shootings, only a better or worse, in that we can pull things from many different solutions to make things more suitable.

We also talked about our obligations to people in our community and people in other countries. The theme of this aspect of the discussion was along the lines of what we have said in class in the fact that we feel more obligated to those people in the closest proximity to us. However, Kenya explained from her perspective that we really do need to feel obligated to people of distant countries because she has witnessed the true condition that people in other countries are in and was once in similar conditions in Mexico. She explained that from truly living in those shoes, she sees that people coming to help other countries is something that is prayed for and the obligation should be there. She gave very vivid descriptions about the drug violence, the brokenness, and the poor conditions that overwhelmed her past country. This really opened my eyes because although in class we read the speech by Ivan Illich, “To Hell with Good Intentions” that ultimately explained that by entering another culture with the intent to do good, we are only doing more harm because we truly don’t understand the gravity of the situation. However, by hearing her personal, genuine story, I was able to see the opposing perspective realizing that maybe we do need to continue our “good intentions” in the pursuit to help others. My mother, with her huge heart, began to tear up after Kenya’s anecdote because she herself felt that as people we really do have an obligation to others but must understand to what extent we can truly help those around us. Jamie talked about her traveling experiences, mainly to China and how we simply don’t understand other countries until we step foot on their grounds. She explained that she honestly only knew about other places from what she had read from textbooks and heard by word of mouth, but quickly realized that by traveling to other cultures, she was able to understand the rest of the world better. I think that that really tied up our discussion because although we have so many wicked problems and are expected to show citizenship to our country, to truly be able to “live well or less badly together” we must understand the rest of the world around us which will overall add to our understanding of our obligations, our country, and even ourselves.

Overall, I really enjoyed this assignment more than I thought was possible. Coming home for fall break, this project added such a new, captivating experience to my time off, and the people who attended made the remark that they learned a lot and would love to do this more often. To sit down and have a real discussion with people was honestly remarkable because those types of things unfortunately don’t happen anymore because of the fast-paced world that we have become accustomed to. We were able to sit down free of technology and just speak honestly sharing our personal experiences and opinions with one another; it was beautiful. Through this assignment, I learned initially that if we would simply slow down each day and have patience to just talk about things, as discussed in the article, “The Power of Patience,” we could discover so much more and learn a vast amount of information about our world and those around us. By simply sitting around a table with somewhat strangers and those who I am closer to as well, I dug deeper into the world we live in and was able to deliberatively understand other people’s opinions and why they are who they are . I also learned that my perspective of the world around me isn’t all there is to be offered and that there is so much more to know than just what I have learned in the nineteen years I have been here. By having experience like Kenya in Mexico or like Chris in the military, we are able to understand even more about our world and through that, live a much more fulfilled life. I have learned through this project that one of the central ideas of our class “how do we live well or less badly together” is ultimately a mixture of many ideas. For instance, it takes understanding of many perspectives, actively speaking about issues, seeking a better understanding of the world around us, and simply being empathetic to listen to others’ opinions and experiences. We can’t simply go through the motions every day, we must do more and seek more out of our daily life and encounters, and through this assignment of casually talking around a kitchen table, I realized that time spent in conversation and listening to others is one of the most valuable aspects in our world today.FullSizeRender