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How a family-owned Chinese restaurant shaped Curtis Chin's worldview

For Curtis Chin, the family restaurant he grew up with in Detroit will always feel like one of the greatest equalizers to witness: "It was one of the rare places in the segregated city where everyone felt welcome. Black or white, rich or poor, Christian or Jewish, the restaurant, we took anyone's money."

Who is he? Chin is a writer and co-founder of the Asian American Writers' Workshop in New York City.

  • He got his start writing for network television, and eventually transitioned into creating documentaries focusing on social justice, as well as writing for a variety of outlets.

What's the big deal? Chin's new memoir, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant tells his life story of growing up in 1980s Detroit — infusing his focus on diversity and community, and how they affected his upbringing.

  • Chin describes the difficulty living in the motor city at that time, as the automobile industry struggled, the AIDS epidemic took its toll, and the usage of crack cocaine became more widespread.
  • While he witnessed the world around him struggling, Chin had his own challenges to face as well: chiefly, coming out as gay in a working-class immigrant community, and going on to become a first-generation college student.

The cover of Chin's book.
/ Little, Brown and Company
Little, Brown and Company
The cover of Chin's book.

What's he saying? Chin joined All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang to talk about the power of good food, good company and building a community.

On the Chinese American experience in Detroit:

On his fears with coming out as gay to his family:

Want more on queer culture in the U.S.? Listen to Consider This speak to three trans Americans on the current state of trans rights.

On the most important thing he learned in the restaurant:

So, what now?

  • Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is available now.

Learn more:

The interview with Curtis Chin was conducted by Ailsa Chang, produced by Kira Wakeam and edited by Christopher Intagliata. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
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