On June 9th I anxiously awaited the arrival of participants to the inaugural conversation table. The Oregon coast rarely gets hot, but today was exceptional; even with all the fans in the community recreational center on at full blast it was sweltering as I anxiously waited for folks to show up. We had ordered a pot of pozole and tostadas for the afternoon, and the hot soup was simultaneously delicious-looking, unappetizing in the heat, and seemed overly optimistic- I had ordered food for twenty people, and wasn’t sure if anybody but myself and Marisol would show up!
Luckily, as 6:00 neared, people started filing in. By 6:15, we had a group of nineteen clustered around the tables I had set up, more than I dreamed would show up for the first week.
I encouraged people to serve themselves and then, after several minutes of eating and casual conversation, I finally jumped in to bring the conversation together. In general, that first meeting was both chaotic and fulfilling: we discussed the theme of welcoming, which led to some good conversation and connection across language barriers. At one point, I left briefly to let the kids present into another room, where they had toys and games to occupy themselves while the adults talked. I returned to a lull in the conversation, and tried–and failed!– to transition the conversation to more informal partner learning with the variety of bilingual books and dictionaries I had spent money on. As a result, the last thirty minutes became a time of very informal connection, which wasn’t on the whole bad, but wasn’t what I had in mind.
I left the Rec Center that Tuesday with feelings of profound relief and gratitude that the first meeting hadn’t completely flopped. Especially heartening were the words of Jesus, a kid my age who had recently moved here from the LA area.
“If you had a program like this where I’m from, people would be lined up out the door to participate,” he said. “Not because of the free food. People want to have this cultural connection. They just don’t know how to make it happen.”