Critical Encounters Potluck (Part 2): En Las Tablas

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The next day of the Critical Encounters Potluck series brought us to the En Las Tablas Performing Arts Center on 4111 West Armitage. Maritza Nazario, Director-Coordinator, invited the Critical Encounters group to the site to create an event with six participant families. The resulting night crossed cultural and language boundaries with food, multigenerational games, and laughter.

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Now, let me set up the situation for you, because it gives gravity to how both the CE group and the families ended up having such a wonderful time. Ali Zaidi from motiroti was our initial bridge to meeting with Maritza’s community–though potluck, food, and the stories we carry with cuisine. Having said all that, there was still the basic unease of two groups of strangers meeting for the first time.

How would we relate? What would we talk about? How do we get started?

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The CE group devised an ingenious icebreaker called The Sticker Game. Everyone was given stickers (naturally) with three different pictures–a cupcake, a chili pepper, and an arrow. Each iconic sticker coordinated with a question that participants had to ask others in order to give them away. For instance, the cupcake sticker shown proudly on the forehead of the little girl above was for her resounding Yes! to the question, do you have a sweet tooth? The most important of these stickers was the arrow, which begged the question, do you live outside of this neighborhood? Considering the diversity of the CE group, these ones were the fastest to go.

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Children proved to be the catalyst for the En Las Tablas festivities and energy. Their enthusiasm for The Sticker Game (and honestly, what child wouldn’t be enthusiastic about stickers?!) motivated many conversations and hand-shaking between the groups. Echoing Ali from the last blog post, the purpose of these potluck events is to start the conversation, to move forward with building community through exposure and awareness.

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Later in the night, everyone wrote a sticky-note quality that they bring to their Chicago community. The accumulation of these wishes formed a patchwork of aspirations, in english and spanish, for what we saw as strengths for the future. It was funny and humbling to know that many of these qualities, no matter where we lived, were one in the same.

Before I forget, there was food at the potluck too. Lots of it. CE participants and En Las Tablas families alike brought dishes that culturally connected with them. A few bilinguals in the crowd were able to translate between spanish and english to convey the narrative of each of the courses. Traditional Danish desert bread. Tamales from a grandmother’s recipe. Pumpkin squash soup from a local farm. A box of store-bought cookies culling memories of migrant farm work. A poignant backstory followed each food as to why it was brought to the table.

In my mind, the meal solidified the bond started with the light-hearted games of arrow stickers and patchwork quilts. I don’t want to overstate the significance of this bond…in fact, part of me doesn’t want to state it at all. It doesn’t need a spotlight.

It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be a real community between people, and not just ideals. It needs to exist after this one night of fun.

…but that one night of fun started it. For that, I am grateful.

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