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!