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In many Chinese American families and especially mine, love isn’t shown through physical gestures like hugging, touching or saying I love you. It’s shown through a special dish made just for you by your mom, like a whole steamed fish in black bean sauce when you got all A’s (I got pork chow mein when I came home with all B’s). 

I can’t blame my mother for her stoicism considering the cards she had been dealt. But Leeann Chin eventually learned how to play those cards and win back her life, from seamstress to a pioneer restaurateur in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Growing up in Guangzhou, China, she was a rebellious girl and the communists saw her fiery nature. They recruited her to lead a Mao student group at school. Her parents decided to put a stop to it. They shipped her off to Hong Kong to marry my father and escape the Cultural Revolution. 

My mother met my father the day they were married. She was 18. 

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Monster-in-law, abusive alcoholic husband

My father had depression and turned to alcohol. His mother was a widow and also an alcoholic. They would get drunk every night and demand my mother cook their favorite meals. With every dish came constant criticism: “This dish too salty! Bring us more Johnny Walker!”

Leeann Chin, left, mother-in-law Sook Yee Chin, daughter Linda and husband Tony Chin in 1952 in Hong Kong.

Her life became a routine of cleaning, cooking, getting berated, getting pregnant. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

AAPI Heritage Month:Why I, a former refugee from Laos, started a museum of international diaspora in … Idaho

After my parents immigrated to Minnesota in 1956, my mother coped with all sorts of new challenges like freezing winters, learning to speak English, Velveeta cheese, Wonder bread, caring for six children, her monster-in-law and an abusive alcoholic husband. 



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