My Kentucky Heart, Sautéed, Not Fried

26 Jun

Kentucky Fried Chicken has ruined my state’s good name. I don’t actively despise KFC when I’m in my hometown; it’s just one of so many fast food joints, a place for mass-produced, cheap, low-quality, low-nutrition eats prepared and served to you by under-paid workers. It is not a place I typically eat (okay, pretty much never), but I understand it’s purpose and I don’t hold it against anyone who eats there. I would not, however, say it is any part of what I want people to know about my great state.

Unfortunately, outside of my state, and especially outside of my country, it’s the only damn thing anybody knows about where I’m from. In Italy, in Chile, and lots of other places in between, people bring up fried chicken like I’m supposed to be pleased and feel recognized. “Ah, como el pollo,” (Oh, like the chicken,) my students say when I tell them I’m from Kentucky. Luckily, the actual restaurant doesn’t even exist down here in Oaxaca, so people just know it as a style of cooking chicken- breaded and fried. That makes it less appalling for me, but it still wounds my Kentucky pride. We have all this amazing culture and incredible nature and wonderful people, but nobody knows about any of that. Instead they’re applauding a stupid fast food chain.

I do my part to educate the public about Kentucky. Down here I take advantage of my job as a teacher to consistently plug facts about Kentucky wherever I can fit them in the curriculum. Like when we read an article about mammoths, I told the students about Mammoth Cave (the world’s largest known cave system, for those of you who don’t know). In the unit about pirates, when we’d discuss movies about pirates, I used to always mention that Johnny Depp is from my state (although he’s officially been cut out of my Kentucky pride spiels, now that I know he’s abusive). I am determined to leave the Oaxacan people with a better impression of my culture than some breaded fried foul.

This semester I taught a particularly sweet group of computer science kids in level one who were always asking questions about me and my life. For the most part students are a bit curious because they don’t get to have conversations with foreigners on a regular basis, so all of us on the English-teaching staff are a bit exotic and exciting. (You guys should see all the girls drooling on my Scottish, red-haired, blue-eyed coworker. Talk about exotic!) This group said they really wanted to hear more about Kentucky, so of course I had to oblige them. I sat down and wrote a list of my favorite things and turned it into a power point, which you can see here. Kentucky Home presentation

Granted, I had to put some things on the list which I don’t really care about or downright dislike, just for the sake of honesty. Despite my personal opinion, my state really is famous for the Kentucky Derby, also known as “the greatest two minutes in sports.” Although I think that horse racing is exploitative to the horses and the underpaid folks who train them, it is a big part of our economy and claim to fame. I also had to mention the 30 minute fireworks show, Thunder Over Louisville, even though I think fireworks are mostly absurd noise and air pollution, not to mention terrifying for some people and animals. I’d much rather have included festivities like KenDucky Derby or that race where servers see how fast they can open a bottle of wine and run with a tray full of wine glasses. But I had to put a limit on the amount of information to inundate the students with, so, you know, some of the more mainstream events won out over my preferences.

For the most part, though, I got to talk about things that I love. That my city, Louisville, is such a close-knit, friendly place. I tried to explain about the miles and miles of beautiful park space- not just a little playground and a bench, but so much green, right inside of a big(gish) city. I got to highlight the good food, the hundreds of restaurants which do not serve fried chicken. I explained about the injera at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant (injera bread is a not so foreign concept here in the land of corn tortillas with everything). I tried not to drool when I mentioned the avocado milkshakes at Vietnam Kitchen. I didn’t even mention the Japanese/Mexican fusion food at Dragon King’s Daughter, or about 15 other of my absolute favorites.

I got to talk about the best part of my city- that it’s full of beautiful immigrants and refugees, constantly adding to our culture. When I looked up the statistics, it said that the foreign-born population accounted for less than 5% of the total, although I am pretty sure that is an underestimate. Even if it’s not, the foreign-born population of Louisville, Kentucky, take up something like 70% of my Kentucky heart, so screw the official stats on this one. In Louisville, teaching English to the grown-up immigrant and refugee community, I learned that being a teacher means constant learning- on my part. I had the grand privilege of teaching professional folks from Mexico and Taiwan; brilliant, wise, multilingual yet illiterate women from Sudan; a father of 10 from the Democratic Republic of Congo; loving and tough mamas from Guatemala; a funny, adorable couple from Cuba, and so many others from so many cultures. And that was just my professional, English-teaching life! Aside from that I worked in restaurants with cooks from Senegal and various Mexican states. In my free time I hung out with generous, smart, nice, world-changing folks from Peru, Guatemala, and so many other places. Even though there is a foreign population in Puerto, being let in to the foreign-born community in Louisville is one of the things that I miss most.

In general, what I miss most is the intimacy of my community there. I sat in my office and cried watching all the outpourings of love in my city when Muhammed Ali died. I miss my family there- the ones I was born with and the ones I’ve chosen since then. I’m coming up on 4 years of living outside of Louisville, and luckily, I find myself feeling nostalgic and homesick less and less often. Especially now that my dad’s gone, the aunt I’m named for is always off on her boating adventures, and some of my other favorite people have moved away. My mind is less and less set on Louisville, because I know that it could never be the same place it was for me before. You can never go back to the past, so even if I went back tomorrow, it would be a readjustment and adaptation process all over again, even though it’s where I was born and raised. But big pieces of my heart still reside there, so creating and sharing my little Kentucky presentation was a good moment of catharsis for my eternally-divided little heart.

And most of all, I did the world some good in showing students that bourbon, annual zombie walks, and a moonbow at Cumberland Falls are all way, way cooler than fried chicken. Take that, impersonal capitalism! My state will rise above Kentucky Friend Chicken! Click on the presentation for lots of pictures!

One Response to “My Kentucky Heart, Sautéed, Not Fried”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Disasterous Dreary Doldroms of Despair | exile to mexico - November 22, 2016

    […] more real than Hollywood and some of the blond folks they see on the beach. (You can see it here: My Kentucky Heart, Sautéed, Not Fried) I always discuss what we have in common, how Oaxaca and Kentucky are among the poorest states in […]

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