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Not a Ted Talk but a Ten Talk About Food

Joanna's childhood home in Harrisonburg Virginia

Yes, this is related to food. You can read the background to the story, or simply jump to the story section.

So, last week was the culmination of 3 months of preparation for a 10-minute talk I was invited to give at my alma mater EMU as part of the homecoming weekend celebrations. Read more here

The plan had been to go and present my 10-minute talk in person but as life happens plans changed and I got to address the audience remotely via ZOOM. When I graduated from EMU and Loren E. Swartzendruber was the President of the school, the person who was invited as the class commencement speaker was a doctor who had delivered a very inspiring speech. I remember thinking that hot April day only a week after my son Sebastian was born thinking to myself how cool it would be to go back to school as a successful adult and be able to inspire a community of students and parents, just like that doctor did. One thing that stuck with me was his command to us, the graduating students, to follow our passions and that as his personal professional experience and aspirations to become a medical doctor had taught him, it's never too late to pursue and live your dreams!

So, here is part 1 of 2 of the 10-minute talk script that I delivered on Saturday. Thank you, EMU for always including me in the community and for the wonderful opportunity to present my talk to alumni, current students, and their families. Thank you Mike Pacchione for helping me prepare for this, and for helping me find the confidence I didn't know I had to tell a story:


The house where the dinner took place in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Some of the fondest memories I have are from hanging out with my friends and loved ones around the dinner table where everyone brings a uniqueness to share that when all come together makes for a colorful time, just like a salad!

A way to make a delicious salad is to mix a variety of vegetables - different sizes, shapes, and colors - and dress them up with lime juice, salt, and olive oil, just like professor Wayne Teel taught us back when I attended EMU in 2006. In comparison to a single-vegetable meal, everything gets more fun and interesting by adding other veggies, dry nuts, or dry fruits thus creating a combination of flavors.

It is in the mix of different foods that taste appears to make our meals unique, allowing us to enjoy a good moment. It is in the union of carefully selected ingredients that our taste buds get excited.

Now, as it happens in the kitchen, it happens in real life with human beings. We, people, like everything in nature are very diverse and unique, and that is by far our greatest potential. Our mutual enrichment, our diversity, is what has driven our greater achievements as humankind throughout history.

Early on in life discovered that one special place in which mutual enrichment takes place is at dinner tables, or simply said, when people gather to eat. I saw it at my family’s weekend reunions, I saw it when I was the cook for my troop when I was a boy scout, or at the different weekend dinner parties, Joanna and I would throw when we lived in Harrisonburg.

A kitchen or dinner table is much more than a piece of furniture that decorates your dining room. It is much more than a simple artifact destined to welcome us for a meal or a drink after an exhausting day at work. It is much more than crafted wood or cut glass with some chairs.

It is at the table that we create and reproduce our solid bonds with our family, our friends, and even our co-workers. It is the spot in which birthdays are celebrated and the zone in which your lover conquers your heart. A dinner table is a place of love and joy.

A dinner table is, hence, the place where history is written. Where YOUR history is written.

Back in the year 2000, for example, I was a young man who was terrified as he was getting ready to eat for the first time at his girlfriend’s house.

During the summer of May 2000 when I traveled to Harrisonburg to meet my wife Joanna in person she decided to invite me to dinner with her family at her house.

To be honest, her mom and sister were not a concern. I knew that if they were at least half as kind and sweet as Joanna was and is, I would have no problem engaging with them. It was her dad the one who terrified me because I did not know much about him. I knew he is from rural Mexico where Dads are known to be very old school, conservative and protective of their daughters. I was not a liberal when it came to family traditions either, I was in fact as a brother very protective of my older sister up to the day she got married.

So, before going to Joanna’s house I pictured myself sitting down at the table and sharing a meal with that tall guy with the Tom Selleck type of mustache whom I had just met for the first time a couple of nights ago and I truly felt nervous to meet him and make a good impression.

What if I say something stupid? What if they don't ́t find me interesting? What If I don't ́have any topics to add to their conversation?

Have you ever felt this way? Maybe? Probably some of you have faced such a challenge at least once. Of course, my love for Joanna was bigger than any fear so there was no turning back.

As I arrived, I was welcomed into the living room with a nice cold glass of sweetened tea. Even though I tried to help with food preparation, I was asked to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the evening. I wasn’t just trying to make a good impression, I am used to helping in the kitchen and being involved in the process of preparing meals at home even when I am a guest at someone else's house.

The warmth provided by that small kitchen in the old house on Broad Street, just a couple of blocks from downtown Harrisonburg, made me feel at home.

I was mesmerized by Joanna’s cooking, the smell of pasta in the boiling water, and the aromas of garlic and onions flavoring the cheezy sauce I didn’t even notice when her dad arrived. Shortly after dinner was ready and we got called to the kitchen table. To be continued...

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