Successful Life of an Inner-City Chinatown Kid: Curtis Chin

Curtis Chin sitting in a chair while speaking at a conference.
Curtis Chin went from a TV writer to creating award-winning social justice. His career took him to working for the Democratic National Committee and serving on a committee for the Obama administration. His upcoming memoir, "Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant," Is a coming-of-age story of growing up in Detroit’s inner-city Chinatown.

“Chinese Restaurants Took Off In The 40s Because They Became A Really Accessible Place For Oftentimes White Working Class People To Go. For African Americans Who Started Getting Jobs Working In Factories, They Finally Had A Place Where They Could Spend That Money Without Being Discriminated Against. And So In Some Ways, Chinese Restaurants Became Popular Because We Welcomed Everybody.”

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About Curtis Chin

A co-founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York City, Curtis Chin served as the non-profits’first Executive Director. He went on to write for television before transitioning to social justice documentaries. Chin has screened his films at over 600 venues in sixteen countries. His essays have appeared in Bon Appetit and the Emancipator/Boston Globe. A graduate of the University of Michigan and former Visiting Scholar at New York University, Chin has received awards from ABC/Disney Television, New York Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and more.

About “Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant: A Memoir”

Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal. Here was where, beneath a bright-red awning and surrounded by his multigenerational family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned to embrace his identity as a gay ABC, or American-born Chinese; where he navigated the divided city’s spiraling misfortunes; and where—between helpings of almond boneless chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, and some of his own, less-savory culinary concoctions—he realized just how much he had to offer to the world, to his beloved family, and to himself.

Served up by the cofounder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and structured around the very menu that graced the tables of Chung’s, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is both a memoir and an invitation: to step inside one boy’s childhood oasis, scoot into a vinyl booth, and grow up with him—and perhaps even share something off the secret menu.

More About Growing Up Gay in Chinatown

Growing up as a gay individual in any community can be challenging, but it can be especially difficult in traditional and conservative communities like Chinatown. One of the biggest challenges of growing up gay in Chinatown is the cultural expectations placed on individuals to marry and have children. In Chinese culture, the family unit is highly valued, and children are expected to continue the family lineage. This can make it difficult for LGBTQ+ individuals to come out and be accepted by their families. The fear of being disowned or ostracized by the community can be overwhelming, causing many to stay in the closet and live a double life.

Lack of Representation

Another issue faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in Chinatown is the lack of representation and visibility in the community. Growing up, many had never seen any openly gay or queer individuals in their community. This has made it difficult for some to understand and accept their own identity. It can also make it harder for LGBTQ+ individuals to find support and resources, as there may not be any visible representation or community groups available.

Despite the challenges, there are also opportunities for growth and acceptance. In recent years, there has been a growing acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community in Chinatown. Community organizations and events have been established to create a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ individuals. Connecting with other LGBTQ+ individuals and building a support system can make a significant difference in the lives of those growing up gay in Chinatown.

Growing up gay in Chinatown can be a challenging experience, but there are many stories like Curtis Chin’s to show there is hope for growth.

Like most marginalized groups, Chinese communities have shown a higher level of acceptance in recent years.

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