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Dinners Put Strangers at the Same Table to Share Food and Thoughts

Dinners Put Strangers at the Same Table to Share Food and Thoughts

Ellen Warren | Chicago Tribune

Tanya Lane, 27, the resident manager of the Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park, refers to herself as “black” rather than “African-American” and savors discussions about race and identity.

Randy Fuller, 52, of Oak Park, grew up in a town of 250 in central New York where everyone was a WASP. Because of that, he said, “I like to be exposed to multiple viewpoints.” Vanessa Mendicino, 29, who grew up in and still lives in Berwyn, said, “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone.”

They and their fellow guests had come to the right place.

Introductions made, wine poured, Grossman got people talking by asking them to describe a fun thing they’d done last weekend and tell “one thing that makes you who you are.”

For Regina Shoykhet, 35, who lives in Old Town, it was fireworks at Navy Pier and “My family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when I was 5 and a half. … Being a child immigrant, you don’t have an accent. You know popular cultural references.” Yet, “I always knew I was a Russian Jew.”

Shoykhet brought along a friend visiting from New Hampshire, Jamie Alford, 33, and by the time it was her turn to talk the introductory questions had faded away and Alford jumped in on the ethnic issue. "My mother didn’t want us to say we’re ‘white, Caucasian,’ " on the many forms school kids fill out. "She made us write ‘human.’ "

“I would put ‘Mexican’ because ‘Hispanic’ is kind of a made-up thing,” chimed in DeLaTorre.

Lane said, “I always ended up with a lot of white kids, so ethnicity is kind of hard for me.” African-American students would tell her, “You act white. You talk white,” she recounted. “But I feel black.”

At this point, Haresh Shah, 69, born in Bombay (now Mumbai), asked Lane how she felt about the phrase African-American, pointing out that there are whites who live in Africa who also consider themselves African.