Book Reading, Curtis Chin: EVERYTHING I LEARNED, I LEARNED IN A CHINESE RESTAURANT
December 11 @ 4:15 pm - 6:00 pm
A charming, often funny account of a sentimental education in a Cantonese restaurant.
Chin grew up in the 1980s and ’90s as a not entirely willing exemplar of a “model minority.” The latter term, he writes, is inadequate and incorrect, since in his hometown of Detroit, the white population was in fact smaller than that of people of color. His aspirational parents moved far from their downtown restaurant, where he worked alongside them throughout his adolescence, so that Chin and his siblings could attend good public schools in neighborhoods where “we were outsiders.” That point was driven home by the brutal murder of a Chinese American friend by two racist white people who were given lenient sentences. The murder had the effect of galvanizing Chin, who had been charting a slow course from the desire to fit in with his suburban classmates, which “meant being a Republican,” to someone aware of his differences and willing to speak to them. One was the dawning awareness that he was gay, fearful of revealing the fact to his family and a mother who won every fight because “she always outlasted her opponent.” She also served the sex workers of downtown Detroit with the same hospitality that she extended to the mayor and the town’s business elite. To all the obstacles that Chin faced, he added a switch from a prelaw major to a degree in creative writing: “I didn’t know which truth would be more difficult to reveal—that I was gay or that I was going to be a poet.” A happy if qualified ending awaits, and the author closes his affectionate, self-effacing narrative with a paean to the power of familial love, to say nothing of an expertly cooked meal.
Chin is a born storyteller with an easy manner, and this memoir should earn him many readers.