A half dozen years ago, it occurred to Gordon Chin, a founder of the influential Chinatown Community Development Center and its executive director at the time, that there have been multiple books written about the issues and personalities of San Francisco’s unique Chinatown — but not one taking the contemporary activist perspective.
Chin, now 67, recalls that the development center’s deputy director back then, Norman Fong, among others, kept hounding him to author such a book.
“I had to actually retire in order to write it,” Chin told the San Francisco Examiner with a laugh.
In fall 2012, a year after stepping down from his 35-year-long leadership role with the nonprofit, Chin began writing, and did so on-and-off for the next two-and-a-half years.
His final product, “Building Community, Chinatown Style,” is a 321 page part-memoir, part-history of the development center encompassing the past half century of leadership in the neighborhood.
The longest chapter, named exactly as the book is titled, dives deep into the development center’s philosophy and why Chin believes it has evolved into one of the most comprehensive nonprofits in the country.
“Chinatown CDC embraces a broader sense of strategy, looking at all the important parts of a community,” he explained.
“It’s not enough to build housing without building parks and improving playgrounds. It’s not enough just to do parks without looking at streetscapes and pedestrian safety. Transportation, all of these, are important elements of a community.”
Some of Chin’s favorite moments in the book, which has 27 chapters include the fall and rise of the International Hotel for low-income residents, observations from his travels to other Asian-American communities, the gains and rights Asian-Americans have fought for and achieved nationally and his family history.
Weaved into the book are a couple dozen profiles of community leaders who most influenced Chin’s life, like Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak, Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Jane Kim and organizers from the 1960s like George Woo and Larry Jack Wong.
“Building Community, Chinatown Style” is of value to current residents or anyone who has lived in Chinatown or The City, Chin said. He added the book should equally move people on the frontlines of community organizations nationwide, and encourage the younger generation to add their own experiences to the dialogue.
“There are so many rich stories here that need to be told, whether in book form or videos,” he said. “If my book sets some example to inspire other people to tell their stories, then I would have accomplished something.”
Copies of the book, self-published by the development center, are available for $19.95 at Chin’s launch event 5 p.m. today at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco at 750 Kearny St. and Amazon.com. In addition, signed copies can be purchased at www.gordon-chin-chinatown.com.