This past weekend I was able to sit down with a few friends and acquaintances for dinner in Nashville, Tennessee and simply talk. There was a total of six of us, and some of these women I had known for years, while others I had met a few weeks ago mutual friends. Even though I was nervous about the diversity requirement for this assignment, I was surprised to see just how diverse the table was and how my friends whom I had known for a long time had opinions and ideas that were different than mine.
Lexi, who is currently about to graduate high school, was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee with her younger brother Collin and her German Shepard Cece. Her parents were very culturally aware growing up and they raised their children to be the same way. While they do have slightly more conservative views they allowed their children to make political decisions for themselves as they got older. Lexi also grew up in a Christian household, specifically Church of Christ, and is very involved in church. A lot of her decisions and morals are based on her religious beliefs.
Julia, a 19-year-old who is currently attending college in Amsterdam and visiting the States on a break, was our second member in attendance, Julia is an independent red-head who was born in the city of Amsterdam in Holland and grew up there and also in France, before eventually moving to the United States with her parents and her younger sister Loren. Her family is very diverse. Her dad is an African American who was born and raised in New York, while her mom is a Caucasian Dutch woman who was born and raised in Holland. Religiously her family is very diverse. Her and her dad are both Christians, her mom is Buddhist of 3 years and former Christian, and her sister is Atheist. Julia did not grow up in an overly religious household, and lives life by her cultural standards rather than her religious standards. Her parents are not strict but are rather involved and let their children have more of a free reign.
The next member was Megan. Megan, a high school senior, grew up in a single parent household and has a dad who lives in Michigan. Megan grew up as the only girl in her family and has a twin brother, as well as a brother who is a junior in college. She was instilled with Christian values from an early age, as well as the perfectionist attitude that her brothers seemed to lack. She is going to college at Vanderbilt University in the fall for Molecular Biology and Chemistry.
Jasmine, a college sophomore at Vanderbilt University studying Political Science and Women’s Studies, grew up in a Ghanan household. She herself is Caucasian but was raised in Ghana. She was adopted by a family who used to live in Ghana but then moved to the states, and they were looking to adopt. She told me that no one would adopt her when she lived in the orphanage in Ghana because people who lived there did not want a white child and that they would be judged if they took her in. She was adopted by her family at the age of twelve. She has a total of 2 brother and 3 sisters. Her brothers are twins and were adopted from China, and her sisters were adopted from Nigeria, Brazil, and Afghanistan. She is the second oldest child in her family. Jasmine was raised in a Christian household and was taught Christian values while she was in the orphanage as well. She says that she frequently visits Ghana so she can keep in touch with her roots.
The last member of the group was Sasha. Sasha, a college junior studying music and elementary education at Tennessee Tech University, was born in Arizona but moved to Nashville, Tennessee when she was in the fifth grade. She was raised in a single parent household and lives with her mom, grandmother, and older sister. Politically, she is very liberal in her thoughts and beliefs and is also politically active in the sense that she often participates in marches, petitions, and protests. She is an atheist, so her beliefs and decisions are not guided by religion. Her family is German and Irish, and she grew up with both cultures actively present within her home life.
When we started talking about the central question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”, Jasmine began saying how citizenship was taking care of those around you and looking out for one another and contributing to the overall wellbeing of your family. She described how there was no one to look out for her during her childhood and that her siblings do that for her now, even though they all come from various parts of the world with different cultural influences. In Ghana a really important value is that you do whatever you can for the wellbeing of your family. So if that means dropping out of school to save your family money or working several jobs even as a child to bring in more money for your family, that’s what you did. It is not a culture where you can be selfish because it is so culturally inappropriate to be that way. You are expected to be selfless for the sake of your family. She also went on to talk about how there are exceptions to that and some families will suffer so their children can stay in school or not have to work when they are young, and how people look at those families as odd or weird because that isn’t the norm there.
Megan then made a really good point, saying that she thinks Jasmine’s circumstance was a good example of showing that caring for one another may be a part of the human nature, even if it occurs among people who are different from one another like it does in Jasmine’s family. Sasha then made the statement of how she thinks it is what being a part of a global community means, and how it is possible for people to coexist together. Everyone at the table agreed with this idea and this was the starting point for the main topic of the dinner.
Two of the major themes, if not the two most significant themes, of the conversation were centered around how many communities a person was really involved in and how they are a part of those communities. Some of the communities that were mentioned were on a smaller scale such as friend groups, neighborhoods, and schools. Others were on more of a larger scale such as your county’s community and your culture. And according to Julia, communities such as your religious and political community can be on both the small and large side of the scale. A lot of these communities were ones that people did not think of and it was actually really fun to go through a lot of them and see the ones that applied to us and those around us at the table. We also all talked about how it was sometimes stressful to balance being a part of these communities, especially when one or some conflict with another.
When I was reflecting on my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project, I learned that it is highly beneficial for people who are different to come together and be able to talk about topics such as this. I think that by sharing thoughts and experiences it helped us be able to become closer to one another as well as being able to see not only what was different about us but also what similarities we shared. I learned how everyone has a different take on what citizenship means to them because of the different lives they have now and had growing up, and there is no definite generic answer for what citizenship is.
I think that this experience is relatable to the class because it reminds me of the article “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. In the article Melville talks about how talk is the essential ingredient of politics and that it can be used to shape people, as well as being used as a tool in the early stages of democracy. It also relates to the central question of “how do we live better together?” Being able to come together and talk about our differences and experiences can help us solve problems and be a better part of our communities.
Left to Right: Lexi, Julia, Megan, Me, Sasha, Jasmine