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Author Curtis Chin on growing up Chinese American in 1980s Detroit

Curtis Chin author of "Everything I learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant." (Photo: Courtesy of Curtis Chin)
Curtis Chin author of "Everything I learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant." (Photo: Courtesy of Curtis Chin)

It’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the Dennos Museum Center will host author Curtis Chin on Thursday, to talk about his memoir, “Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant.”

The book is about growing up Chinese American in 1980s Detroit, helping out at his family’s restaurant.

Chin talked about what the restaurant was like, and how it shaped the person he is today.

The restaurant was called Chung's Cantonese Cuisine, it was actually opened by my great grandfather in 1940," Chi said. "Everybody went there from Mayor Coleman Young, to literally the pimps and prostitutes on the street corner in the corridor. We saw it all. And, you know, a big part of my memoir is recounting all these fabulous customers that came through our door, and all the different things I learned by interacting with them."

"Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant" is Chin's first book. He's also made documentaries.

Curtis Chin at a book reading. (Photo: Courtesy of Curtis Chin)
Curtis Chin at a book reading. (Photo: Courtesy of Curtis Chin)

"Storytelling is so important, because it really gets us to connect with each other. Right? I mean, I think this relates to social justice issues, because that's a very passionate issue of mine," Chin said. "If people don't see you, as an individual, as a person, or even as an American, why would they think that you deserve equal rights, that you belong in this country. And so that's always been a big part of me telling my family story."

Chin said most of his family moved to Detroit in the late 1800s and it's part of his history that he's proud to share.

"To think that there were Asians in Detroit long before there was a Ford Motor Company, or even Motown music, I think just blows people's minds," Chin said. "Thinking about like, 'Oh, what was your family doing back then?' Or, 'How did they help contribute to the building of the city of Detroit?' I'm very proud of that history. And that's why I like to talk about it."

Curtis Chin will talk with Tony Vu, chef and owner of The Good Bowl in Traverse City, at 7 p.m. at the Dennos Museum Center's Milliken Auditorium. It's part of other AAPI Heritage Month events that begin around 5 p.m.

See a schedule of the day's events here.

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Tyler Thompson is a reporter at Interlochen Public Radio.