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Located in San Francisco Bay, the Angel Island Immigration Station served as the main immigration facility on the West Coast of the United States from 1910 to 1940. Many immigrants from China or other Asian countries were detained there for extended periods thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and other discriminatory immigration laws.
The Chinese Exclusion Era
Immigrants from China began arriving en masse in the United States in the wake of the Gold Rush. Some worked as miners; others got jobs on farms, in textile factories, or building the transcontinental railroad. At the time, the federal government did little to regulate immigration, instead leaving it up to the states. But with the growing influx of immigrants from both Europe and Asia, federal authorities decided to step in, especially after an economic downturn in the 1870s led many Americans to blame immigrant workers for their misfortunes.
Due to the growing strength of the eugenics movement—which feared the “contamination” of the white race by other races or ethnicities—Chinese immigrants were seen as a much greater threat than those from Ireland or Germany. In 1875, Congress passed the Page Act, which blocked entry to Chinese, Japanese and other Asian laborers brought involuntarily to the United States, as well as Asian women brought for the purposes of prostitution.
The Page Act was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from coming to the United States, limited immigration to those who already had relatives living in the country and prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens.
WATCH: America: Promised Land on HISTORY Vault
Angel Island: ‘Ellis Island’ of the West?
Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, U.S. immigration officials were required to inspect each Chinese passenger who arrived via boat in San Francisco before they could be allowed on land. As this process often took more than a single day, passengers were initially detained on steamships anchored in the harbor for that purpose. In 1892, a building near the harbor was converted into a “detention shed,” which often became overcrowded and unsanitary.
When Congress finally appropriated funds for the construction of an immigration facility in San Francisco, Angel Island was considered the ideal location. Historically home to the Miwok Native Americans, the 740-acre island had since housed a large Mexican cattle ranch and a U.S. military base. After numerous delays in the construction, the immigration station was hastily completed and opened on January 21, 1910 on the northeastern edge of Angel Island.
Though known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island functioned very differently from its New York counterpart. Ellis Island served as a processing center primarily for European immigrants, who were viewed as easily assimilable into American society and faced relatively few obstacles when it came to entering the United States.
By contrast, many of the immigrants who came through Angel Island were from Asian countries, primarily China, and were subject to long interrogations and detentions to prevent illegal entry.
How Things Worked at Angel Island
From 1910-40, an estimated 500,000 immigrants from 80 countries—including Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Mexico, Canada, and Central and South America—were processed through Angel Island. The great majority came from China or other Asian countries, including Japan, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, Korea and Vietnam.
On arrival in San Francisco, a ship’s passengers would be separated by nationality. Europeans and first-class passengers would have their papers processed aboard ship and be able to disembark. Asian immigrants and some other groups, including Mexicans and Russians, along with those who were thought to need quarantine for medical purposes, were sent to Angel Island.
The Chinese Exclusion Act and related laws allowed entry only to a few elite occupations, as well as children of U.S. citizens. Interrogators screened potential immigrants with detailed questions, including biographical information about their families and the homes where their relatives lived. Many immigrants went to great lengths, memorizing details about false identities as skilled workers or relatives of Chinese Americans. By one estimate, some 150,000 people illegally entered the United States as “paper sons” or “paper daughters” during the Chinese Exclusion era.
Authorities at Angel Island submitted immigrants to exhaustive interrogations to try and prevent this kind of illegal entry. While processing arrivals to Ellis Island normally took a few hours or a few days at most, immigrants could spend weeks, months or even years at Angel Island. Due to its isolated location it was thought to be escape-proof, like another nearby facility: Alcatraz.
Processing Center During World War II
In August 1940, a fire destroyed the main administration building on Angel Island, and the processing of immigrants was moved to the mainland. Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, but continued to limit immigration from China to just 105 people per year until passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965.
During World War II, the U.S. military used the immigration station on Angel Island as a processing center for prisoners of war, as well as a detention center for hundreds of Japanese immigrants from Hawaii and the mainland United States.
Angel Island Poetry
Abandoned after the war, the buildings deteriorated until the 1970s, when the discovery of more than 200 poems in Chinese etched into the walls by long-ago immigrants inspired efforts to preserve Angel Island and commemorate its role in the history of Pacific immigration. The Angel Island Immigration Station, declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997, was later renovated and opened to the public as a California state park.
Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (Oxford University Press, 2010)
History of Angel Island Immigration Station, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
Richard Lui, “Paper Sons.” CNN, November 14, 2009.
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
“The boat was launched and I set out to search for better anchorage for the ship. I went out toward the island I named de los Angeles [Angel Island], which is the largest in this harbor, in search of proper moorings for making water and wood and though I found some good ones, I rather preferred to pass onward in search of another island, which when I reached it proved so arid and steep there was not even a boat-harbor there I named this island La Isla de los Alcatraces [Island of the Pelicans] because of their being so plentiful there.” (Juan Manuel de Ayala, 1775)
Angel Island, the largest island in San Francisco Bay at about 740 acres, was originally named when Don Juan Manuel Ayala sailed into San Francisco Bay. Supposedly, the island was named “Angel” because the land mass appeared to him as an angel guarding the bay, and when Ayala made a map of the Bay, on it he marked Angel Island as, “Isla de Los Angeles”. This would remain the island’s name ever since, even as the use of the island would certainly change over time.
The island is currently a large state park with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay and skyline, but the most noteworthy part of the park is the immigration museum. That site is what makes Angel Island so famous today, as it remains best known for being the entry point for Asian immigrants to the United States from 1910-1940. There is no way to know for sure how many people actually passed through Angel Island because of the destruction of most of the historical documentation in a fire, but historians estimate that it was between 100,000 and 500,000 people.
Angel Island is often referred to the Ellis Island of the West, but many argue that they are extremely different in their preservation of immigrant histories. For one, Angel Island took much longer to preserve, and the preservation of Ellis Island focuses on the positive reception of European immigrants on the East Coast, which plays well to corporate sponsors and the American story. Historian John Bodnar explained that Ellis Island represents “the view of American history as a steady succession progress and uplift for ordinary people”. Ellis Island fits nicely into the narrative of the American Dream, because even though the immigrants who came through there were subject to racism, they were predominantly white. Angel Island was a much more multiracial experience, and when recounting its history, the tensions of exclusiveness and xenophobia that existed in the late 19th century and early 20th century are laid bare for all to see.
After a fire in 1940, Angel Island went from being an immigration station to being used for military purposes. At first, it was used as POW holding facility during World War II, and then finally as a Nike missile base between 1954 and 1962.
Did You Know. Customs and Immigration Officers Helped 'Kidnap' Chinese Girls to Save Them
Human trafficking has a long and sad history in many countries. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, teenage and younger Chinese girls were often lured to America with false promises of a better life. Many were caught up in trafficking and spent years in slavery and prostitution. In San Francisco, though, CBP's legacy customs and immigration employees played a role in rescuing many Chinese girls from their captors and cruel fates.
Five rescued Chinese girls at a
San Francisco mission. Photograph
by Arnold Genthe, 1904.
The Page Act of 1875 made it illegal to import women from "the Orient" for the purposes of prostitution, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 severely restricted entry of people of Chinese descent into the U.S. The 1882 law permitted the upper class and business elite to immigrate with their families, but it banned outright members of the working class.
This meant that male Chinese laborers already living in America had no prospects of companionship or marriage with women of their own social class and origins. Human traffickers filled the void by illegally bringing in women and girls who willingly made the trip under the untruthful promise of marriage or respectable work, or whose poor families sold them to the traffickers.
During the long voyage from China, traffickers coached their victims to say that they were the wife or daughter of a prosperous man already living in the U.S. and supplied them with fine clothing and forged papers to help them pass questioning at the port of entry. Traffickers portrayed port officers as evil men who would physically harm them and deny them their better future, frightening the girls into compliance. Upon arriving, many falsely claimed habeas corpus-that they were legal U.S. residents who traveled to China for a visit and had the right to reenter the U.S. to "rejoin" their families. Traffickers drilled them with information about life in America-local street names, names of neighbors, names of businesses-in an effort to make it seem like they had been living here all along.
The U.S. Customs Service in the Department of the Treasury was responsible for coordinating enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act for nearly 30 years. Inspectors and interpreters of the Chinese Bureau reported to the collector of customs. Chinese inspectors questioned new arrivals about their histories and scrutinized their documents. During the early years of the act, the officers had no legal grounds to detain or refuse entry to women whose stories they could not easily disprove. Once past Customs, authorities found it extremely difficult to track the girls' whereabouts traffickers spirited them away to Chinatown brothels or other forced servitude.
In 1912, Customs Guard
W.H.J. Deasy refused a
bribe and captured a
trafficker with four smuggled
Echoes of History: Chinese Poetry at the Angel Island Immigration Station
These lines are from just one of the hundreds of poems carved on the barrack walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station in the early twentieth century by Chinese detainees awaiting decisions on their entry status. As the first literary body of work by Chinese North Americans, this collection of poetry not only carries the secret memories of early Chinese immigrants but also vividly portrays a pivotal period in the nation&rsquos immigration history, when various harsh discriminatory laws limited the entry of Chinese and other Asian immigrants.
I had read the poems and about their history, but it was not until I visited the site of the immigration station in 2016 and saw those carvings on the walls that I could deeply appreciate the detainees&rsquo anger, frustration, and desperation. I can only imagine the hardships they endured on the isolated island upon arriving at this promising land of which they had long dreamed.
The Shadow of Exclusion
The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act legally banned the free immigration of all Chinese laborers and prohibited the naturalization of Chinese immigrants already in the United States. It was the first national legislation against immigration based on race and national origin. For decades after, additional laws were passed that barred other Asian immigrants, such as Japanese, Koreans, and Indians, and to limit immigration from southern and eastern European countries.
Angel Island Immigration Station was built in 1910 in the San Francisco Bay mainly to process immigrants from China, Japan, and other countries on the Pacific Rim. Its primary mission was to better enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other anti-Asian laws enacted in subsequent years. Newcomers to the island were subjected to severe interrogation, which often led to detentions—from a few weeks to months, and sometimes even years—while waiting for the decisions of their fates.¹ The station remained in use until 1940, when a fire destroyed the administration building.
Besides a general physical examination applied for all immigrants regardless of age, gender, or race, Chinese detainees on Angel Island went through a special interrogation process. Immigration officials knew that a majority of Chinese immigrants claiming to be children of Chinese American citizens were just &ldquopaper sons&rdquo or &ldquopaper daughters&rdquo with false identities.² In the interrogation, applicants were asked questions concerning their family history, home village life, and their relationship to the witnesses. Any discrepancies between their answers and those provided by the witnesses resulted in deportation.
Approximately one million immigrants were processed on Angel Island between 1910 and 1940. Of these, an estimated 100,000 Chinese people were detained.³
Memories Carved on the Walls
One of the ways that Chinese detainees protested their discriminatory treatment on Angel Island was to write and carve poetry on their barrack walls. The poems were almost lost to history until a former California state park ranger, Alexander Weiss, discovered them in 1970 when the park service was planning to tear down the building and reconstruct the site. After the news of Weiss&rsquos discovery spread through the local Asian American community, activists, descendants of Angel Island detainees, and volunteer professionals and students launched a campaign to preserve the detention barracks and the poems carved within it.
Since the 1970s, various efforts have been made to preserve the poems. Today, more than 200 have been discovered and documented. At the forefront of these efforts was the work of Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, who published translations of the poetry and excerpts from interviews with former detainees in the book Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, first published in 1982 4 and republished in 2014. 5
The majority of poets were male villagers, often with little formal education, from China&rsquos southern rural regions. 6 Most of their poems follow the Chinese classic poetic forms with even numbers of lines four, five, or seven characters per line and every other two lines in rhyme.
The content ranges from experiences traveling to the United States and their time on the island, to their impressions of Westerners and determination for national self-improvement. Besides personal expression, some poems refer to historical stories or make literary allusions. Unlike the traditional way of signing the poems, few people put their names at the end of their work, most likely to avoid punishment from the authorities.
None of the collected poems were written by women. If women had written poetry, their works would have been destroyed in the women&rsquos quarters, which were situated in the administration building and burned down in 1940.
Poem 43 from Island sung in Toishanese by Yui Poon Ng of the Suey Sun Tong Association of Vancouver. Ng is improvising upon a type of narrative folksong, muk&rsquoyu (wooden fish), from Toisan County (Taishan in Mandarin) in the southern province of China from where most of the early Chinese immigrants came. Video recording produced by Joanne Poon, used by permission of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
Remembering the Sounds of the Past
First opened to the public in 1983, the renovated detention barracks has been turned into a museum as part of Angel Island State Park. In 1997, the site was designated as a National Historical Landmark.
The historical discriminatory immigration laws seem to have become a thing of the past, but American inclusion and exclusion are still debated today—around such issues as, for example, childhood arrivals and executive orders proposing to ban refugees from certain countries. Fifty-two years after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 removed the discriminatory national origins quotas, immigration policy and reform continue to be a source of great national concern. Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the shadows thousands of immigrants are detained each year by the Department of Homeland Security. The surviving poems carved on the walls of the Angel Island barracks record the historical voices impacted by past policies of exclusion and have a certain resonance today.
The Chinese immigrants coming to the West Coast in the first half of the twentieth century told their immigration stories by writing Chinese classic poems. Across the five decades of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, several generations of subsequent immigrants have shared their migration experiences through a diverse range of expressive forms—from handicrafts to performing arts to foodways—demonstrating the enduring cultural vitality and creativity.
We invite you to our 50th anniversary as we continue exploring these themes in the program On the Move: Migration Across Generations.
Ying Diao holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She was an intern with the 2016 Sounds of California Festival program. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Religious Diversity, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany. She is most grateful to Grant Din, Yui Poon Ng, Joanne Poon, and Judy Yung for their help in collecting data for this blog.
Architectural Resources Group. 2004. &ldquoPoetry and Inscriptions: Translation and Analysis.&rdquo Prepared by Charles Egan, Wan Liu, Newton Liu, and Xing Chu Wang for the California Department of Parks and Recreation and Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, San Francisco. Internal materials.
Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung. 2014. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Lee, Erika, and Judy Yung. 2010. Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Yung, Bell and Eleanor S. Yung, eds. 2014. Uncle Ng Comes to America: Chinese Narrative Songs of Immigration and Love. Hong Kong: MCCM Creations.
Yung, Judy. 2015. &ldquoChinese Immigration and Poetry at Angel Island and Ellis Island.&rdquo Lecture given at the Asian American Research Institute, The City University of New York on March 6.
1 On Angel Island, Chinese men were detained separately from women and other racial groups within overcrowded and unsanitary quarters. They were confined at all times except for mealtime in the administration building and for limited exercise in the fenced recreation yard.
2 The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act did not bar the entry of Chinese merchants, diplomats, students, teachers, or descendants of the Chinese who had already become U.S. citizens. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed most of the city records, including birth certificates. Many Chinese immigrants seized the opportunity to falsely claim themselves as children of citizens. The name of &ldquopaper son&rdquo or &ldquopaper daughter&rdquo was given to those whose fathers were not U.S. citizens but buying papers asserting their citizenship.
3 Other large groups of detainees include Japanese (85,000), South Asians (8,000), Russians and Jews (8,000), Koreans (1,000), and Filipinos (1,000).
4 When the first edition was completed, no publishers were willing to release it because they did not foresee a market for Chinese American history or Chinese American literature. Three authors self-published their book through fundraising.
5 The translation was aided by Mak Takahashi&rsquos documentary photographs of the poems, Smiley Jann and Tet Yee&rsquos transcription collections, individual rubbings, and translations provided by other community members.
6 As classic poetry was taught by colloquia of the time, people with little formal education could learn to read, appreciate, and write Chinese poems as a common form of expression.
U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island
Photo by Taras Bobrovytsky, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90880987
The U.S. Immigration Station is located in Angel Island State Park on Angel Island, the largest island in California's San Francisco Bay. While the island is the home of 740 acres of pristine parkland, including beautiful beaches, picnic areas and hiking trails, it is most famous for its rich history.
In 1850, President Millard Fillmore declared Angel Island a military reserve and during the Civil War, the island was fortified to defend San Francisco Bay from potential attack by Confederate forces. Angel Island continued to be an active military installation through World War II. In 1905, the War Department transferred 20 acres of land on the island to the Department of Commerce and Labor for the establishment of an immigrant station. While the exact number is unknown, estimates suggest that between 1910 and 1940, the station processed up to one million Asian and other immigrants, including 250,000 Chinese and 150,00 Japanese, earning it a reputation as the "Ellis Island of the West." Having served as the point of entry to the United States for Asia, Angel Island remains an important place for Asian Americans whose heritage and legacy are deeply rooted in the history of the U.S. Immigration Station.
Before the 1800s, there was little immigration from Asia to the U.S. During the 19th century. However, the U.S. experienced mass migrations of immigrants from several Asian countries, particularly China. Multiple factors triggered this wave of immigration. In 1848, gold was discovered in California and throughout the 1850s, Chinese immigrants were recruited as a major source of labor for the U.S. gold mines. Many Chinese immigrants also came to the U.S. during this period to escape the Taiping Rebellion, a large-scale civil war that encompassed most of Southern China. In the 1860s, Chinese workers were recruited in large numbers from both China and the U.S. western mining industry to help build the Central Pacific Railroad's portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. During this time, Chinese laborers were also hired by the agricultural industry in California, which was suffering from severe manpower shortages and needed skilled farm workers.
By the 1870s, the U.S. economy was in a post war decline. The country experienced a series of economic crises starting with the Panic of 1873. The deflation and depression that followed caused wage levels to fall and many Americans to lose their jobs. In the West white laborers, many of them from the American South, found themselves competing for scarce jobs with Chinese immigrants who would work for lower wages. This led to rising resentment among the white population. Political and labor leaders began to use Chinese immigrants as scapegoats, blaming them for declining wages and high unemployment, and accusing them of being morally corrupt.
In response to economic fears, primarily in California, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted Chinese immigration. The Act barred Chinese "skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering the U.S. for 10 years and forbade Chinese immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens. Nonlaborers from exempted classes – diplomats, travelers, merchants, students, ministers, and children of U.S. citizens – could immigrate to the United States after receiving a certification from the Chinese government. The Chinese Exclusion Act marked the first time the U.S. Congress restricted an immigrant group on the basis of race. Congress passed other exclusionary laws aimed at Chinese immigrants between 1888 and 1902, effectively reducing the number of Chinese entering the U.S.
After passage of the various Chinese exclusionary laws, Japanese immigrants became increasingly sought after by American businesses. Because of this, the number of Japanese immigrating to the U.S., particularly to the West Coast, increased rapidly. The previous animosity toward Chinese laborers was transferred to Japanese immigrants. With anti-Japanese sentiment rising in California, the U.S. and Japan came to a "Gentlemen's Agreement" in 1907. Under the Agreement, Japan voluntarily limited the immigration of Japanese laborers and the U.S. permitted the immigration of spouses of Japanese immigrants already in the U.S. By 1910, the Japanese had begun to make their presence felt in the agricultural economy of the West Coast. In a letter from Governor William D. Stephens of California to Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby dated June 19, 1920, the Governor stated that "The Japanese. have gradually developed to control, many of our important agricultural industries" and described the presence of the Japanese in California as "an even more serious problem than Chinese immigration."
San Francisco, California was a primary point of entry for Asians immigrating to the U.S., and new arrivals were housed in quarters located at the Pacific Mail Steamship Company docks on the San Francisco waterfront. The facilities at the docks, however, proved to be inadequate and unsanitary. A study authorized in 1904, recommended construction of an immigration station on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. In 1905, the War Department transferred 20 acres of land on the island to the Department of Labor and Commerce for the construction of the new station. Angel Island was an ideal location for an immigration station due to its isolation from the mainland. Its location allowed for greater control over immigrant entry to the U.S., prevented immigrants on the island from communicating with immigrants on the mainland, and slowed the introduction of new or deadly diseases to the general population. The new Immigration Station opened on January 21, 1910 and became the major port of entry to the U.S. for Asians and other immigrants coming from the west.
The Immigration Station opened for partial operation on the northern neck of the island, later called China Cove. Architect Walter J. Mathews designed the Station compound to include an administration building, hospital, powerhouse, wharf, and an enclosed detention center with an outdoor area and guard tower. Since many Chinese citizens made multiple efforts to immigrate under the exempt categories in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, immigration officials at the station had to determine who had legitimate exemption documentation before allowing them entry into the United States.
When a ship arrived in San Francisco Bay, immigration officers boarded the ship to inspect each passenger's documents. Those who held proper documentation gained almost immediate entry to the United States, while those with questionable documents had to ride a ferry to Angel Island for further examination. Once they were on the island, immigration officials separated the immigrants by their race and sex, regardless of familial bonds, except for children under 12 years old who could stay with their mothers during their quarantine period. Each newly arrived immigrant received a full medical examination at the station hospital. If an examiner found evidence of a disease, the infected immigrant could not enter the U.S.
After their medical examination, healthy immigrants detained on the island awaited an immigration hearing conducted by two immigration inspectors, a stenographer, and a translator. These hearings functioned more like interrogations, as immigration officials tried to expose fraudulent claims by asking about the minute details of a person's life. Often these proceedings could take days, months, or in some instances, several years.
Thousands of immigrants detained on Angel Island endured the station's prison-like environment. Detainees resided in confined dormitories with locked doors, unable to leave without the supervision of an escort guard. Immigration officers inspected all incoming and outgoing letters, packages, and other communications from detainees and they could not receive visitors until after their cases cleared. To pass the time, some men read books or listened to records in their native languages, while women often knitted or sewed. Sometimes guards allowed women and children to stroll around the grounds. Only 10 months after immigrants began residing in the men's detention barracks, poems began to appear on the walls. Carved into the unfinished wooden walls with the ends of ink brushes, these poems often expressed Chinese immigrants' frustration, resentment, or unhappiness over their experience. Angel Island's Immigration Station continued to operate in this manner until a fire burned the administration building on August 12, 1940.
A few months later, on November 5, 1940, the Immigration Station relocated to a landlocked base in San Francisco. After the relocation, the former Immigration Station was returned to the U.S. Army. In 1946, the Army decommissioned the military installations and reduced its presence on the island. In 1955, the State of California purchased 37 acres on the island, forming Angel Island State Park. When the U.S. Military finally left in 1962, they turned the remaining federal land over to the state to become part of the park. California largely neglected the property until 1970, when Alexander Weiss, a State park ranger, discovered the poems carved on the walls of the detention barracks. Immigrants had left very few first-hand accounts detailing their experiences at the Immigration Station, which gives greater value and significance to the discovery of the Chinese poems on Angel Island. These poems carved into the walls remain as a memorial to all of those who passed through the island's harsh detention barracks on their journey to a new life in the U.S.
Today, Angel Island State Park administers the remaining buildings of the Island's original West Garrison post, which date back to the 1860s, and the East Garrison (Fort McDowell). The U.S. Immigration Station Barracks Museum administers what remains of the station. Visitors to the museum are able to explore the grounds of Angel Island's U.S. Immigration Station. Guided tours of the detention barracks are available, which include exhibits highlighting historic photographs, artifacts, and a re-creation of immigrant living quarters and interrogation rooms. Tours of the detention barracks also provide visitors with the opportunity to view the hundreds of poems carved into the wooden walls of the barracks. Ayala Cove, the Island's main point of entry and former location of the U.S. Quarantine Station, houses the Park Headquarters and the main Visitor Center. Angel Island's history encourages all visitors to appreciate the great lengths many immigrants took in order to live in, or become citizens of, the United States.
The U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island, a National Historic Landmark, is located in Angel Island State Park, on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, CA. Additional information is available on the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website.
Discover more history and culture by visiting the World War II in San Francisco Bay Area travel itinerary.
A project through the Save America's Treasures Grant Program, which helps preserve nationally significant historic properties and collections, funded work to restore the Angel Island Immigration Station in 2000. Restoration work included rehabiliation of the building and poems carved into walls of the station.
Angel Island Immigration Station
The Immigration Station is located on the northern shore of Angel Island, which sits in San Francisco Bay, on the other side of Alcatraz Island from San Francisco. Visitors arrive via ferry, and then explore the museum independently or with a guided tour. The re-created bunk rooms and barracks show a little of what life was like for immigrants on Angel Island as they waited and hoped for a new life in the United States.
Many travelers to Angel Island extend their visit with a hike or bike ride around the island. Another unique view of the Immigration Station and island as a whole can be had on a San Francisco Bay helicopter tour.
Angel Island Immigration Station: The Hidden History
On September 2, 2020, over 160 educators from across the United States joined a webinar titled “Angel Island Immigration Station: The Hidden History.” The Angel Island Immigration Station was located in San Francisco Bay and was operational from 1910 to 1940. It was established in order to control and enforce the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and other immigration-related laws that followed, e.g., the Immigration Act of 1924, which included the Asian Exclusion Act and the National Origins Act.
The featured speaker was Connie Young Yu, a writer, activist, and historian. Yu has written and spoken extensively about the contrasts between Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor—in which immigrants primarily from Europe were welcomed by an image of the Statue of Liberty—and Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay where immigrants entering the United States primarily from Asia were detained and interrogated. The largest detained group of immigrants was from China. Reflecting on the webinar, Yu commented:
I was glad to share my “hidden history” during the SPICE webinar, including the saving of the immigration barracks in the 1970s and my grandmother’s lengthy detention on Angel Island. The immigration station barracks—now a national monument—were nearly destroyed had it not been for Ranger Alexander Weiss and the activism of a citizens’ committee. The writing on the barracks’ walls by Chinese detainees still speaks to us today of peoples’ struggle against immigration exclusion and institutionalized racism.
The webinar can be viewed below.
Yu’s talk was followed by SPICE’s Jonas Edman who worked with graphic artist Rich Lee to publish Angel Island: The Chinese-American Experience. Edman shared scenes and activities from this graphic novel that tell the story of Chinese immigrants who were detained at Angel Island Immigration Station. The graphic novel has been widely used nationally to educate students about immigration to the United States from China. Yu remarked, “I was thrilled to hear from Jonas Edman about the brilliant graphic novel, Angel Island: The Chinese American Experience. At last, as part of the curriculum, students can learn in living color about how the detainees struggled and endured, the human side of Chinese immigration exclusion.”
Given the prevalence of immigration-related news over the past several years, several teachers in attendance noted the importance for school curricula to include topics related to immigration history in the United States. Following the webinar, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation’s Executive Director Edward Tepporn reflected:
Growing up in Texas, I didn’t learn about Angel Island and its significant role in our nation’s complex history until after I moved to the Bay Area… Especially as racism and xenophobia are on the rise in the U.S., it’s important to uplift the full history of how our nation has treated its diverse immigrant communities, including the injustices they have endured as well as their important contributions.
Edman suggests that teachers consider asking students essential questions like: How and why did U.S. immigration policy favor certain groups and not others? What impact did laws such as the U.S. federal law, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, have on Chinese immigration to the United States? In what ways did Chinese immigrants advocate for themselves and actively respond to discrimination and exclusion? How is U.S. immigration policy similar and different today? Also, Edman highly recommends teachers to visit the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website, which includes excellent teaching resources, including primary sources.
The webinar was made possible through the support of the Freeman Foundation’s National Consortium for Teaching about Asia initiative. The webinar was a joint collaboration between SPICE and Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies. Special thanks to Dr. Dafna Zur, CEAS Director, and John Groschwitz, CEAS Associate Director, for their support and to SPICE’s Naomi Funahashi for facilitating the webinar and Sabrina Ishimatsu for planning the webinar.
Processing Middle Throughout World Battle II
In August 1940, a hearth destroyed the principle administration constructing on Angel Island, and the processing of immigrants was moved to the mainland. Congress repealed the Chinese language Exclusion Act in 1943, however continued to restrict immigration from China to simply 105 individuals per yr till passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965.
Throughout World Battle II, the U.S. army used the immigration station on Angel Island as a processing middle for prisoners of battle, in addition to a detention middle for lots of of Japanese immigrants from Hawaii and the mainland United States.
Angel Island Immigration Station - Facts, History and Legacy - HISTORY
|Immigration from: |
China | Japan | Philippines | Russia | India
From 1910 to 1940, tens of thousands of immigrants entered the West Coast of the United States through the Angel Island Immigration Station. Located in San Francisco's North Bay, not far from Alcatraz Island, the buildings were nearly forgotten and their history almost lost, until one day in 1970, when Alexander Weiss, a California State Park Ranger, re-discovered the treasure they held. His chance discovery began the long journey to save the immigration station, and ultimately, to save the stories hidden within it, and to help us remember its sad, but important role in American history.
The exact number of immigrants who passed through Angel Island is unknown. In addition to being a detention site, the station was also an administrative site. As such, it processed the paperwork for all people coming into and leaving the United States, and not just for those who spent time at the site. Current estimates put the figure of actual immigrants who passed through the Station at about 300,000. Comparatively, Ellis Island received about 12 million throughout the time of its operation.
Of those who arrived at Angel Island, it is estimated that anywhere from 11 percent to 30 percent were ultimately deported, whereas the deportation rate for the East Coast was only 1 percent to 2 percent.
After 1940, the station was used briefly as a detention site for the internment of Japanese nationals returning to Japan and World War II prisoners of war. In 1946, the site was finally closed down and abandoned by the Army.
When Ranger Weiss rediscovered the site in 1970, the Parks Administration did not share his enthusiasm for preerving the buildings and the poetry written on and carved into their walls. In fact, the Parks Administration was planning to demolish the buildings -- the former employee cottages had already been burned down for the filming of Robert Redford's The Candidate.
Weiss then alerted San Francisco State University Professor George Araki, whose class he was attending at the time, and, along with Araki's colleague Mak Takahashi, they arranged to photograph all the walls that had poems carved into and written on them. Soon after, students in Asian American studies classes were taking trips to Angel Island and word began to spread about the elaborate poetry carvings and writings that were a hidden treasure of American history.
The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation was founded in 1983 and is the primary advocate for the site's preservation, restoration and interpretation. In 1997, the Angel Island Immigration Station was named a National Historic Landmark. The site will be closed to the public from November 2004 through 2005 as it finally undergoes the first phase of a long-awaited renovation.
Angel Island Immigration Station
Angel Island Immigration Station was an immigration station located in San Francisco Bay which operated from January 21, 1910 to November 5, 1940,  where immigrants entering the United States were detained and interrogated. Angel Island is an island in San Francisco Bay. It is currently a State Park administered by California State Parks and a California Historical Landmark. The island was originally a fishing and hunting site for Coastal Miwok Indians, then it was a haven for Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala. Later, it was developed as a cattle ranch, then, starting with the Civil War, the island served as a U.S. Army post. During the island's Immigration Station period, the island held hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority from China, Japan, India, Mexico and the Philippines. The detention facility was considered ideal because of its isolated location, making it very easy to control immigrants, contain outbreaks of disease, and enforce the new immigration laws.  The station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places under the title Angel Island, U.S. Immigration Station, and is a National Historic Landmark. The station is open to the public as a museum – "a place for reflection and discovery of our shared history as a nation of immigrants".