Toast and coffee, cake and candles, bills and taxes.
In our culture, no other piece of furniture can conjure the daily routines, happy memories and periodic struggles of American families like the kitchen table.
It's a place where many of us recap our days over dinner and plan for our futures a bit later in the evening, after the kids have gone to bed. In an election year like this one, most kitchen tables are probably busier than usual, as people discuss with family and friends the local and national issues that are important to them.
Although we don't have a kitchen table at Napa Valley Community Foundation, in the last few months we've talked, around other sorts of tables, with more than 1,000 residents about an important topic in our community--immigration.
We've listened to the concerns and beliefs and ideas of a broad variety of people, including: those who were born here and those who were not; parents whose kids are in the public school system; small business owners; grape growers; faith community leaders; vintners; restaurant owners; conservatives; liberals; activists; public officials; teachers; young adults; professionals...and so forth.
As varied as our discussions have been thus far, I come away from them with a keener sense of two things that unite us in Napa Valley--no matter what our backgrounds or countries of origin.
First, most of us really appreciate living here. Second, some of us live in fear.
I won't spend much time cataloging the many virtues of our region. We all know this is a place of arresting beauty. We recognize it's a wonderful community in which to raise children slowly and safely. And we acknowledge our relative abundance when it comes to certain public assets: a robust civic life; a long tradition of neighbors helping neighbors; and permanently protected open spaces, to name a few.
In my recent conversations with community members, I wasn't surprised to hear people praise Napa Valley, or to dwell on what makes it special.
But, I was surprised to learn about the pervasiveness of fear.
From immigrants and others with ties to undocumented residents, I've heard about the fear of deportation. About people who've been living here for 10 to 20 years, working and raising children in our community. They live in households where some family members are documented and some are not, and they worry about the very real possibility of being abruptly removed from the place they call home.
From longtime US-born residents, I've heard about the fear of change. Of not seeing oneself reflected in the future complexion of our community. Of being unable to afford the rising cost of living in Napa County. Of having public schools struggle with diminished budgets and changing demographics.
At the core of these different strands of worry is something fundamental, in my view: the fear of being separated from our families.
Here I think about my conversation with a longtime Napa resident in her mid-70s, whose late husband spent nearly 30 years at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. When she looks at our community, she doesn't see enough economic opportunity for her three adult kids, who are professionals. Or enough housing that's affordable.
When she looks at her grandchildren, she worries about the quality of our public schools, and agonizes over how long it might be before her children and grandchildren live someplace different than she does--which is the very same thought that lurks each day in the minds of thousands of undocumented residents in our community.
And so it seems: The things we dread the most are what bind us all together, in some fashion.
So I ask you to consider what it would be like to share a kitchen table with neighbors you've known for many years, or newcomers you've only waved to in passing. I can imagine some interesting conversations taking place in this way. And I think more conversations such as this are needed in our community.
PS: We've developed a survey about the immigration study we released earlier this summer. If you have a chance, we'd love to hear from you. Click here to take the brief survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XHKJFDF