Memoir Chronicles Life Lessons Learned in a Chinese Restaurant


Summary: In his memoir, Curtis Chin shares insights from his childhood in a Chinese restaurant in Detroit, highlighting life lessons learned through interactions and experiences. The book reflects on topics like racism, gay rights, and social justice, presenting a candid and occasionally humorous perspective on growing up Chinese American and gay in the ’70s and ’80s. Through anecdotes organized in menu-style sections, the memoir provides a glimpse into both the challenges and the positives of Detroit during that time. Chin’s work in elevating Asian Americans in society has inspired an exhibition at the Detroit Historical Museum, showcasing the history of Detroit’s Chinatowns.

Curtis Chin’s debut memoir, ‘Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant,’ offers a heartfelt and introspective account of his childhood growing up Chinese American and gay in Detroit during the ’70s and ’80s. Chin’s parents, who owned a Chinese restaurant, encouraged their six children to engage with customers and learn about their backgrounds, instilling in them a curiosity and openness towards people.

Chin, known for his advocacy work for Asian Americans, delves into important social issues like racism and gay rights in his memoir, inviting readers to connect with his personal experiences. Rather than force-feeding these topics, Chin cleverly presents them in the form of menu sections, such as ‘appetizers and soups,’ ‘rice and noodles,’ and ‘main entrees,’ where readers can savor each memory at their own pace.

While Detroit faced various challenges during that era, including crime, drugs, and the AIDS epidemic, Chin’s memoir aims to showcase the positive aspects of the city and the resilience of its residents. The book also sheds light on the vibrant Chinatown community in Detroit, which underwent relocation due to urban development. Through his family’s restaurant, Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, Chin illuminates the welcoming atmosphere that brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds, including local politicians, journalists, and drag queens.

The memoir not only captures Chin’s personal journey but also documents an important period in Chinese American history. The book has received critical acclaim and has been recognized as a ‘must-read’ on several fall reading lists. In addition, it has inspired an exhibition, ‘Detroit’s Chinatowns,’ at the Detroit Historical Museum where artifacts, oral histories, videos, and photographs contribute to tracing the city’s Chinatown history. The exhibition offers visitors a deeper understanding of the Chinese American community’s presence and contribution to Detroit over the years.

Chin’s memoir serves as a powerful testament to the endurance and strength of the Asian American community, providing a platform for sharing stories and fostering understanding.

Tags: memoir, childhood, Chinese restaurant, Detroit, racism, gay rights, Chinatown, exhibition, Asian American, history