Carrión the Conversation!

Greetings from TableTalk Episcopal! My name is Karen Zhang, and I am a rising junior at Episcopal High School (EHS), located in Alexandria, Virginia. I will be a Permanent Facilitator in the 2018–2019 school year, and I am very exciTTed for the future of TableTalk!

Karen Zhang ’20 is a Permanent Facilitator for TableTalk Episcopal

I was first introduced to TableTalk Global during my freshman year through monthly TableTalks, a new event established by Olivia Tucker, President of TableTalk EHS, that quickly attracted a lot of attention. By my sophomore year, I was deeply involved in all of the TableTalk events. Through CampusCouches, CookieConversations, BlindBrunches, catered dinners, and more, TableTalk became an outlet for me to talk to people, something I wasn’t very good at. The conversations that have been generated through TableTalk are invigorating and uplifting, and never fails to provide me with a new perspective.

While there were many memorable moments throughout the year, the event that left the greatest impression was a specific catered TableTalk dinner on March 29th, 2018. While I loved the unrestrained conversations of CampusCouches, I found the more structured dinner and discussion more appealing. In honor of Women’s Month, TableTalk and Mi Gente had partnered up to host a discussion about a more serious topic: LatinX rights, particularly in relation to the Puerto Rican fiscal crisis. They had invited Jose B. Carrión III, who is the chairman of The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, as well as the father of fellow classmate Valeria Carrión ‘18.

Jose B. Carrión III addressing EHS students.

While the catered Chick-fil-A dinner was being distributed, Mr. Carrión began the event by introducing his work, the details of his organization, and the current situation he was working with. Following the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster that had ever affected the region, Puerto Rico was having a hard time recovering, especially after President Trump demanded that the U.S Territory pay back their debt. The federal government had also been reluctant to provide disaster relief aid, leading to Puerto Rican officials urging for more action to help the island’s survivors. Mr. Carrión is one of those officials, striving to bring relief aid to the people of Puerto Rico. His outlook on the controversy brought up ideas and obstacles that I’ve never thought about before.

Discussion among EHS Students about the issue.

The most interesting part, however, was the conversation. After the short speech, we were all encouraged to begin discussing the topic. We first quickly introduced ourselves, just in case we weren’t very familiar with each other. Mark Berry, another TableTalk Episcopal member, was the facilitator for my table, and Valeria, daughter of Mr. Carrión, was also there.

Karen Zhang ’20 and Valeria Carrión ‘18

At first, conversation was limited, especially on my side. Not only was I an introvert, but I was the only sophomore at a table full of upperclassmen. I was never someone who initiated an conversation, so this experience was rather new. However, as we kept delving into the subject, we all started to speak up. The question that really sparked a debate in a table was “When is it appropriate to politicize tragedies?” Since this event happened right after the March For Our Lives, we drew parallels between the destruction of Hurricane Maria and the tragedy of the Parkland shooting.

I heard many different viewpoints that were far different than mine, but with equally valid points. While we might have disagreed with each other, we acknowledged the differences and moved on.

Our different approaches lead to the subquestion of: “How do you honor the emotion post-tragedy while also affecting immediate change?” This was a hard inquiry to answer. During the deliberation, Mr. Carrión even approached our table to give his thoughts on the matter. He included logistical reasons and some political advice, especially underlining the complexity of such an event, and the delicate balance it stands upon. Some teachers even stepped into the conversation to offer their own take on the situation.

As we talked, our conversation deviated from the structured questions, and we began a more casual discussion about our own analyses and takes on the situation. We started to talk more about prejudice, especially ones based on race or ethnicity. Despite my shyness, I eventually felt comfortable enough to share my own experiences towards prejudice and stereotypes as a person of foreign descent. Using my own observations as a Chinese-American, I added my input into the discussion, and listened when others had an interesting viewpoint. The talk was rather refreshing, and each of the members of my table chipped in with any thoughts, experiences, or statistics that they had about the issue. I honestly have never had such a thoughtful and memorable conversation. Even now, it’s fresh in my mind.

EHS Students holding up the TableTalk sign!

After the discussion, our table exchanged phone numbers in order to stay in touch. Personally, I was not very informed about Puerto Rico’s situation, yet I left the event with new knowledge and insight about a big topic, as well as the appreciation that I had the opportunity to get to know my fellow classmates more. This is why I really love TableTalk. Even from this short experience, I was able to gain a new perspective. I have been impacted by this amazing organization again and again, and I never seem to leave an event without learning something new. Again, I cannot wait for the future that awaits TableTalk, and I’m proud that I’ll be a part of the journey! Keep carrying on the conversation!