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History of Angel Island Immigration Station

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Journey to America

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Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, millions of people — in numbers which have not been seen since — came to America in pursuit of a better, freer life.

On the east coast, most of the huddled masses were met by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On the west coast, between 1910 and 1940, most were met by the wooden buildings of Angel Island. These immigrants were Australians and New Zealanders, Canadians, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Russians, and in particular, Asians.

There, during this period of great migration, they would meet with a reception quite unlike that given to European immigrants on the East Coast. The reasons for this reception, and the story of this journey, as usual, have their roots in the past.

Fifty years beforehand, around the middle of the 19th century, on the far western frontier of the continental United States, immigrants from Guangdong Province in southern China began arriving, fleeing from a land stricken by both natural and man-made disasters and a collapsing rural economy. Though initially welcomed, when the local economy took a downturn in the 1870s, economic problems were laid at the feet of this highly visible minority by organized labor, newspapers, and in short order, politicians. 

A number of laws were passed at the local and state levels targeting the Chinese, soon attracting national attention. In order to secure the crucial western states' votes, both parties in Congress supported the first of several acts targeting immigration from Asia. With the passing of this first act, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, America had limited immigration on the basis of nationality or race for the first time, and it would not be the last, as subsequent acts severely curtailed each successive wave of immigration from Asia which came to replace Chinese immigrant workers.

 

Despite these restrictive laws, immigrants undertook a Pacific Ocean journey of three weeks, including stops in Honolulu, Manila, Yokohama, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Many passengers could barely afford steerage class travel, and bought their tickets only with the collective help of relatives and neighbors. These new immigrants believed that they could make that money back quickly in America. Other immigrants came from the Punjab, Russia, the Philippines, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Latin America as well.  Their stories are not well documented and remain waiting to be uncovered

Among these immigrants were several hundred Jewish people, fleeing Nazi rule in Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. 

 

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These people had the good fortune to have relatives and sponsors in the U.S.

After traveling across Russia to China and Japan, they boarded ships for San Francisco. Dozens of families and individuals ended up at the Angel Island Immigration Station, underwent medical inspection and were detained for weeks because they did not have sufficient funds to reach their eventual destinations. Please see the stories of Eva Schott Berek, Lotte Loebl Frank, and Harry Gluckman at www.aiisf.org/immigrant-voices to learn more about some Jews who fled persecution and landed at Angel Island. 

Different treatment Based on Nationality

 
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On Arrival at San Francisco, passengers would be separated by nationality

Europeans or travelers holding first or second class tickets would have their papers processed on board the ship and allowed to disembark. Asians and other immigrants, including Russians, Mexicans, and others, as well as those who needed to be quarantined for health reasons, would be ferried to Angel Island for processing.

 

Enforcement

The question soon arose of how to actually implement the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Initially, customs service officers individually and arbitrarily administered Exclusion; in time, procedures became standardized and as they did, Exclusion enforcement eventually fell upon the Bureau of Immigration, forerunner of today's Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). By the first decade of the 20th century, a national system had formed for specifically regulating Asian immigration.  This system invoked fear and loathing in the community, and remained a baleful memory for generations.

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As part of this system, Immigration officials planned a new facility on Angel Island, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay, far from the mainland. It would replace the old two-story shed at the Pacific Mail Steamship Company wharf previously used to house and process incoming and outgoing migrants. The new station would prevent Chinese immigrants from communicating with those in San Francisco, isolate immigrants with communicable diseases, and, like the prison on nearby Alcatraz Island, be escape proof. In January 1910, over the late objections of Chinese community leaders, this hastily built immigration station was opened on the northeastern edge of Angel Island, ready to receive its first guests.

The first stop on disembarking at the pier on Angel Island was the Administration Building. Men were separated from women and children, then proceeded for medical exams, a humiliating experience for Asians, whose medical practice does not include disrobing before the leering eyes of strangers or being probed and measured by metal calipers. Here, they would also be tested for parasitic infections. Consequences could be severe for failing this test, including hospitalization at their own expense or deportation. After the examinations they were then assigned a detention dormitory and a bunk, where they would await their interrogators, the Board of Special Inquiry.

Circumventing the Chinese Exclusion Act became a first order concern for most immigrants from China, as it allowed only merchants, clergy, diplomats, teachers, students as “exempt” classes to come here. Many Chinese immigrants resorted to buying false identities at great cost, which allowed them to immigrate as either children of exempt classes or children of natives. In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed municipal records which created an opportunity for the city’s Chinese residents to claim that they were born here and therefore were American citizens. As citizens Chinese could bring their children to this country, and on return visits to their ancestral villages, claim new children had been born to them. Some of these were “paper sons” or less frequently “paper daughters” — children on paper only without a direct family connection. These paper children were in effect “slots” which people could sell to allow new immigrants to come to this country.

*For more information about paper sons, view this 2009 CNN news story by Richard Liu.

To counter this practice, Immigration inspectors developed grueling interrogations, and by 1910 they had refined this procedure.

The immigrant applicant would be called before a Board of Special Inquiry, composed of two immigrant inspectors, a stenographer, and a translator, when needed. Over the course of several hours or even days, the applicant would be asked about minute details only a genuine applicant would know about — their family history, location of the village, their homes. These questions had been anticipated and thus, irrespective of the true nature of the relationship to their sponsor, the applicant had prepared months in advance by committing these details to memory. Their witnesses — other family members living in the United States — would be called forward to corroborate these answers. Any deviation from the testimony would prolong questioning or throw the entire case into doubt and put the applicant at risk of deportation, and possibly everyone else in the family connected to the applicant as well. These details had to be remembered for life. Because of return trips to China, the risk of random immigration raids and identity card checks on the street, a paper son often had to keep these details alive throughout their life.

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In the meantime, immigrants suffered through long waits on Angel Island for these accounts to be taken or to arrive in a world before instantaneous electronic communication. This period could range from several weeks if the testimony was taken locally to several months to years if the applicant was rejected and appealed the decision. The length of stay varied for travelers from other countries; Japanese immigrants held documents provided by their government that sometimes expedited the process of entering the country, and thus, the majority of the detainees were Chinese. Often, one’s relatives might be on the other side of the country in New York or Chicago. Wherever they were, until their testimony was taken and corroborated and found its way back to San Francisco, the applicant would languish in detention.

Down In Flames

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Down in Flames

In the end, the complaints of the community and public officials regarding the safety of the Immigration Station proved true when the Administration Building burned to the ground in August 1940. All applicants were relocated to a mainland facility by November. In 1943, Congress finally repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in consideration of its ally in the Pacific Theater, thus ending 61 years of official Exclusion. But there was a twist: while the repeal finally allowed Chinese to become naturalized citizens at last, it continued to limit immigration from China to a mere 105 people a year until 1965.

Once closed due to fire, the Immigration Station site was used as a World War II prisoner of war processing center by the U.S. military. After the war, the site was abandoned and deteriorated. In 1963, Angel Island was established as a state park and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks) assumed stewardship of the immigration site.

Poetry on Barrack Walls

Because of the long delays associated with testimonies, living conditions became the focal point of immigrants’ frustrations. Immigrants became prisoners under lock and key 24 hours a day. The barracks had been deemed by public health officials to be a firetrap, the food was barely edible, recreation or time allowed outside was limited, and under such conditions, some even demanded to be returned to China on the next boat out. It was common to hear rumors of suicide by those who were scheduled to be deported.

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The most visible and durable testimony to their suffering are the famous poems, some written, some carved with a classical Cantonese technique into the wooden walls of the barracks. This was not mere graffiti. Couched in classical allegories and historical references, these poems poured forth the aspirations of the immigrants with their anger and sadness at the injustice of their initial reception by America.

"

Detained in this wooden house for several tens of days,
It is all because of the Mexican exclusion law which implicates me.
It’s a pity heroes have no way of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so that I can snap Zu’s whip.
From now on, I am departing far from this building
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.

From the walls of Angel Island Immigration Station
Author unknown, Poem 69 from Island, p. 134.

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A Few Selected Poems Below


 


獨坐稅關中,
心內起不痛。
亦因家道貧,
遠遊不近親。
兄弟來到叫,
只得上埠行。
黑鬼無道理,
唐人要掃地。
每日食兩餐,
何時轉回返。


- 辛亥年七月十二日李字題寧邑
Poem 3, p. 187
 

Translation
Sitting alone in the customs office,
How could my heart not ache?
Had my family not been poor,
I would not have traveled far away from home.
It was my elder brother who urged me
To embark on a voyage to this shore.
The black devil* here is unjust-
He forces the Chinese to clean the floor.
Two meals a day are provided,
But I wonder, when will I be homeward bound?

- Lee from Toishan District, September 4, 1911

 

*A pejorative to refer to those of African descent-here, presumably, an African Canadian working at the immigration station directed the detainees to sweep the floors.

 


妻囑情
出門求財為家窮,
把正心頭在路中。
路上野花君莫取,
為家自有係妻奴。
臨行知囑情千萬,
莫作奴言耳過風。
家中妻兒係莫掛,
勤儉二年掃祖宗。
妻兒衣裳無一件,
米盒掃來無半筒。
家中屋舍無間好,
爛溶爛揸穿爛帘。
夫係昔日都尋賭,
不念奴奴淚飄飄。
多得親兄來打稅,
莫學忘叔大恩公。

- 辛亥七月十二日到李字題寧邑
Poem 4, p. 189

Translation
My Wife's Admonishment
We are poor, so you're leaving home to seek wealth;
Keep hold of propriety while on this journey.
Never pick wildflowers along the road,*
For you have your own wife at home!
Before you depart, I admonish you a thousand times;
Don't let my words just whistle past your ears.
Don't worry about us, be diligent and frugal,
And two years hence return to sweep the ancestors' tombs.
Your wife and children haven't a thing to wear;
Not half a cup of rice can be scooped from the pot.
Our house and rooms are dilapidated;
Our housewares are worn, and the curtains torn.
In the past, you did nothing but gamble;
You never thought of me and my flowing tears.
You are fortunate your elder brother has paid the taxes-
Always remember your great debt to him!

- Lee from Toishan District, Arrived July 12, 1911
* To engage in romantic/sexual affairs while away from home.
 


Better known as the Festival of the Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon, the Qiqiao Festival is widely celebrated among the Cantonese. In the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Maiden (Niulang Zhinü), the Weaver Maiden in heaven one day fell in love with a mortal Cowherd. After their marriage, her loom, which once wove garments for the gods, fell silent. Angered by her dereliction of duty, the gods ordered her back to work. She was separated from the Cowherd by the Silver Stream, or Milky Way, with the Cowherd in the constellation Aquila, while she was across the Heavenly River in the constellation Lyra. The couple was allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh moon, when the Silver Stream is spanned by a bridge of magpies. On this day, maidens display toys, figurines, artificial fruits and flowers, embroidery, and other examples of their handiwork, so that men can judge their skills. It is also customary for girls to worship the gods and make offerings of fruit to them.

 

本擬舊歲來美洲,
洋蚨迫阻到初秋。
織女會牛郎哥日,
乃搭林肯總統舟。
餐風嘗浪廿餘日,
幸得平安抵美洲。
以為數日可上埠,
點知苦困木樓囚。
番奴苛待真難受,
感觸家境淚雙流。
但願早登三藩市,
免在此間倍添愁。

Poem 7, p. 51

Translation
Originally, I had intended to come to America last year.
Lack of money delayed me until early autumn.
It was on the day that the Weaver Maiden met the Cowherd*
That I took passage on the President Lincoln.
I ate wind and tasted waves for more than twenty days.
Fortunately, I arrived safely on the American continent.
I thought I could land in a few days.
How was I to know I would become a prisoner suffering in the wooden building?
The barbarians' abuse is really difficult to take.
When my family's circumstances stir my emotions, a double stream of tears flows.
I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon,
Thus sparing me this additional sorrow here.

 


From "Tangong," a chapter in the Book of Rites: Confucius was passing Mount Tai and saw a woman weeping and wailing at a grave. Confucius asked why she was wailing so sadly. She said, "My father-in-law and my husband were killed by tigers. Now my son has also been killed by a tiger." Confucius asked why she didn't leave this dangerous place. She replied that it was because there was no oppressive rule here. Confucius remarked, "Oppressive rule is surely fiercer than any tiger."

 

香山許生勉客題
說去花旗喜溢顏,
千金羅掘不辭艱。
親離有話喉先哽,
妻別多情淚對潸。
 
浪大如山頻駭客,
政苛似虎倍嘗蠻。
毋忘此日君登岸,
發奮前程莫懶閒
 

Poem 10, p. 55

Translation
Just talk about going to the land of the Flowery Flag and my
countenance fills with happiness.
Not without hard work were one thousand pieces of gold dug up and
gathered together.
There were words of farewell to the parents, but the throat choked
up first.
There were many feelings, many tears flowing face to face, when
parting with the wife.
Waves big as mountains often astonished this traveler.
With laws harsh as tigers,* I had a taste of all the barbarities.
Do not forget this day when you land ashore.
Push yourself ahead and do not be lazy or idle.

Poem by One Named Huie from Heungshan Encouraging the Traveler


 

深夜偶感
夜靜微聞風嘯聲,
形影傷情見景詠。
雲霧潺潺也暗天,
蟲聲唧唧月微明。
悲苦相連天相遣,
愁人獨坐倚窗邊。
台山余題

Poem 24, p. 67

Translation
Random Thoughts Deep at Night
In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.
The forms and shadows saddened me; upon seeing the landscape, I
composed a poem.
The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.
The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.
Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.
The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.

Written by Yee of Toishan
 


 

牢籠躍入出無能,
無任傷悲血淚橫。
精衛啣砂填夙恨,
征鴻訴月哀頻生。
子卿絕域誰憐問?
阮籍途窮空哭行。
芳草幽蘭怨凋落,
那時方得任升騰?
台邑李鏡波題

Poem 41, p. 81

Translation
After leaping into prison, I cannot come out.
From endless sorrows, tears and blood streak.
The jingwei bird carries gravel to fill its old grudge.*
The migrating wild goose complains to the moon, mourning his harried life.
When Ziqing was in distant lands, who pitied and inquired after him?**
When Ruan Ji reached the end of the road, he shed futile tears.***
The scented grass and hidden orchids complain of withering and falling.
When may I be allowed to soar at my own pleasing?

By Lee Gengbo of Toishan
 

* According to a folktale, the daughter of the legendary Yandi was drowned while playing in the Eastern Sea. Her soul changed into a bird called a jingwei, which, resenting the fact that the ocean had taken her life, carried pebbles from the Western Mountains in her beak and dropped them into the ocean, hoping to fill it up.

** Another name for Su Wu (140-60 BCE), who, during the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-24 CE), was sent by the Chinese government as envoy to the Xiongnu, a nomadic people north of the Chinese empire.  Su Wu was detained there for nineteen years but refused to renounce
his loyalty to the Han emperor.

*** Ruan Ji (210-263), a scholar during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-80), enjoyed drinking and visiting mountains and streams. Often, when he reached the end of the road, he would cry bitterly before turning back.


 

囚困木屋天復天,
自由束縛豈堪言?
舉目誰歡惟靜坐,
關心自悶不成眠。
日永樽空愁莫解,
夜長枕冷倩誰憐?
參透箇中孤苦味,
何如歸去學耕田?

Poem 43, p. 83

Translation
Imprisoned in the wooden building day after day,
My freedom withheld; how can I bear to talk about it?
I look to see who is happy, but they only sit quietly.
I am anxious and depressed and cannot fall asleep.
The days are long and the bottle constantly empty; 
my sad mood, even so, is not dispelled.
Nights are long and the pillow cold; who can pity my loneliness?
After experiencing such loneliness and sorrow,
Why not just return home and learn to plow the fields?
 

 

Japanese American Detainees on Angel Island in World War II

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Japanese Internment

The story of Angel Island as a center for processing U.S. immigrants did not end when the Administration Building burned down in an electrical fire in 1940. Almost 700 Japanese immigrants were sent from Hawaii to the mainland after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941. Close to 600 of these people were first were detained in the former immigration barracks on Angel Island, with the other 105 being sent to Sharp Park, near Pacifica. In addition, at least 98 mainland Japanese immigrants were arrested and brought to Angel Island. Most of them came from the Bay Area, Central and Salinas Valleys, with some from Colorado and Washington. 

For some, Sharp Park was their first site for further screening - those deemed the most "dangerous" were sent to the U.S. Army camp on Angel Island (Fort McDowell) and then to Army and Department of Justice camps, while others were allowed to join their families at the War Relocation Authority camps like Poston, Arizona, Jerome, Arkansas, and Tule Lake, California. They were considered internees under the control of the U.S. government, both the U.S. Army and the Department of Justice.

To read more stories about those detained during WWII, please visit this section of our Immigrant Voices website.

Why were there wartime internees on Angel Island? . . .

Those arrested included community leaders, journalists, ministers, mostly of the Buddhist and Shinto denominations, people who worked with the Japanese consulates to help the adjustment of Japanese immigrants, shopkeepers, farmers, photographers and others who were members of kendo and other martial arts clubs or contributed to organizations seen by the U.S. government as "pro-Japan."

According to Tetsuden Kashima in Judgment without Trial, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other government agencies had been monitoring their activities for many months before Pearl Harbor. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had requested the FBI to prepare, in conjunction with the army and navy intelligence units, a list of "potentially dangerous" persons to be detained in case of national conflict. This became known as the Custodial Detention List and was used to arrest specific people just hours after Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

Examining the files that are in the National Archives, some of the ministers were accused of taking orders from Japan (though they were never found to have taken any actions against the U.S. government), kendo club members were accused of associating with pro-Japan organizations because they might have been in a meeting with government officials, etc.

These immigrants were classified as "enemy aliens" although due to the Naturalization Act of 1790 which limited naturalization to "free white persons" (later modified after the Civil War to include those from Africa and in 1924 to include Native Americans), they were unable to become naturalized citizens even if they had wanted to. They were part of 17,477 people of Japanese descent who were interned or placed under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department for all or part of World War II. 13,798 Germans, Italians and a few other foreign nationals were also imprisoned as "enemy aliens." We have found the names of about 81 Germans and Italians who were interned at Angel Island for at least a short time during the war.

Many were arrested immediately after Pearl Harbor was attacked, even before a declaration of war by the U.S on December 8, 1941. As "enemy aliens," they did not have the rights of citizens. Citizenship rights proved insufficient when Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 called for the incarceration of all people of Japanese descent on the West Coast, including both immigrants and citizens.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which acknowledged and apologized for the fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation and internment of Japanese American citizens and permanent resident aliens, provided for a public education fund to inform the public about the internment, and made restitution to those who were interned.

Where were the internees housed on Angel Island? . . .

These "enemy aliens" were housed, sometimes alongside prisoners of war, in the former Immigration Station barracks. It appears that most stayed for only a couple of weeks on Angel Island (also known as Fort McDowell), before being sent to more permanent camps. To the best of our knowledge, only men were detained on Angel Island. We have found internment records for a few women who were sent to Sharp Park near Pacifica and then on to internment camps run by the War Relocation Authority, but to the best of our knowledge, they were not sent to Angel Island.

What was life like for the Japanese detainees? . . .

There are few first-hand accounts of life on Angel Island for these Japanese immigrants, especially for those from the mainland. One is an account in Yasutaro Soga's Life Behind Barbed Wire, "Living quarters for all forty-nine of us were two rooms measuring about thirty-six feet by seventy feet on the second floor of an old building that had once been the Immigration Bureau office. Because there were about ninety internees from California already housed there, space was very tight. The beds were tri-level bunks with barely enough walking space in the aisles. There were about ten windows and one ventilator, but with 140 occupants, air circulation was poor. That night I had difficulty breathing and had a headache."

Jukichi Inouye vividly remembered that, "Angel Island was the first place [we went on the mainland]. We were there for about two weeks. We were stripped down naked for physical examinations. Then our clothes were returned to us. It was at that time my watch was missing. Boots were missing…they didn't even investigate that. We were classified as prisoners of war (Nakamura, chapter 9, page 9)."

Patsy Saiki in Ganbare! An Example of Japanese Spirit also describes Angel Island as a brief stop for women from Hawaiˋi on their way to join husbands who had been sent from Hawaiˋi to camps on the mainland. Saiki interviewed many former detainees from Hawaiˋi about their experiences to develop this optimistic composite report about the first ship to arrive at Angel Island on March 1, 1942, the U.S.S. Grant: "The men did not mind being photographed, fingerprinted and examined in the nude for 'infectious diseases.' This took from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and it was cold, a damp, clinging cold… Angel Island was a continuation of the fairyland that was called San Francisco. Birds welcomed them in the morning, and cherry and acacia trees bloomed in pink and white glory. Such beauty, after ten days in the confining walls of the ship's hold, made them drunk with joy."

Saiki described that the internees decided to do something about the food, volunteering to help in the mess hall and cooking rice the way Japanese liked it. "The men were allowed to walk the grounds around the dorm for half an hour three times a day. They exercised loudly and joyfully." Within five days of arrival, Group 1 was on its way to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin.

Read the profile of the Hoshida family to learn more about one family where the father, mother and children all journeyed through the island. Tamae Hoshida’s ship, the S.S. Lurline, also included a number of other women traveling with children and we expect they spent a short time on Angel Island as well.


 

The Wartime Records

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) office in College Park, MD has many of the internment files for Japanese detainees during the war. NARA has an online index that allows searches by name for these and other detainees.

Submit Your Story

If you would like to add to our index and/or submit stories about those who were interned on the island, we would love to hear from you! Please contact us at info@aiisf.org.

 

Resources . . .

Kashima, Tetsuden. Judgment without Trial. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2003

Nakamura, Kelli. Suspected criminals, spies, and "human secret weapons": the evolution of Japanese-American representations in political and cultural discourse from Hawai'i to Japan, 1880--1950s. Doctoral thesis, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2008. The quote above quotes Mr. Inouye's oral history interview with the University of Hawaii's Japanese Internment and Relocation: The Hawaii Experience study.

Proulx, Larisa. "Angel Island WW II Internment Camp and Prisoner of War Enclosure (1941-1946)," unpublished paper, 2013. Saiki, Patsy. Ganbare! An example of Japanese Spirit. Honolulu, Kisaku, Inc., 1982.

Soga, Yasutaro. Life Behind Barbed Wire. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

 

 

Restoration of an Immigration Landmark

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In time, Angel Island began to recede into memory like fog in the bay. The traumatic experiences that Asian communities and other groups immigrating over the Pacific had faced there were rarely if ever mentioned to future generations. In 1970, shortly before the scheduled destruction of the barracks, a California State Park Ranger, Alexander Weiss, rediscovered the poetry on the walls of the abandoned barracks.
 
Ranger Weiss contacted Professor George Araki of San Francisco State College and photographer Mak Takahashi; together they photographed the walls of the barracks. Sparked by the discovery, Bay Area Asian Americans, spearheaded by Paul Chow, formed the Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee (AIISHAC). This organization studied how best to preserve the station for historical interpretation.

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Restoring the Barracks

In July 1976, their hard work came to fruition as the state legislature appropriated $250,000 to restore and preserve the barracks as a state monument. In 1983, the barracks opened to the public and members of AIISHAC created the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) to continue preservation and educational efforts regarding the site. AIISF is the non-profit partner of California State Parks in the work to restore the historic immigration station at Angel Island. AIISF’s mission includes both the preservation of the site and education about the role of Pacific immigration in U.S. history.

In 1997, the Angel Island Immigration Station was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. In 1999, Save America’s Treasures, a project of the National Trust and the White House Millennium Council, adopted Angel Island Immigration Station as one of its Official Projects, providing $500,000 for the preservation of the precious Chinese poems carved into the barracks walls. In March 2000, California voters passed a state bond measure that set aside $15 million specifically for restoration of the Angel Island Immigration Station.

In 2004, the Immigration Station was closed for a major retrofitting and renovation work.  Over the next five years, many changes were made to the detention barracks:  a new roof was installed, an elevator and wheel chair lift were added, new exhibits were created to highlight the significance of the Chinese poetry carved on the walls, and exhibits such as the interrogation table and other interpretive signs were placed on the grounds of the old administration building.

In February 2009, the immigration station reopened.  In 2010 work began to stabilize the immigration station hospital, a two-story, and 10,000 square foot structure, directly across from the detention barracks.  The hospital played an important role at the immigration station as the site of inspection, quarantine, and healing of immigrants.

The first phase of the hospital project is the stabilization of the structure, which has suffered significant water damage and structural weakening.  By spring 2012, a new roof and gutters had been installed at the hospital, and the interior walls had been strengthened. The final phase of rehabilitation of the hospital began in fall 2013 and will last until 2019.  When completed, the hospital will be home to the Pacific Coast Immigration Center. The Center will tell the stories of the struggles and successes faced today and in the past, and of the powerful legacy of America’s immigrants- bringing voice to the West Coast immigration experience. Performance, cultural and community-building events, and symposia -- in addition to the exhibits -- will raise the profile of the West Coast immigration experience and ensure that it becomes a part of our nation’s immigration history narrative.

The Angel Island Immigration Station continues to be a part of America’s story. The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation works to bring its history to light and to make its lessons part of our national dialogue about the complicated intersection of race, immigration and the American identity.

Click here to watch Road to Restoration from Felicia Lowe.


California State Parks and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation wish to thank the following contributors whose generosity made possible the completion of Phase One of the restoration of the U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island

Major Funders
A Save America's Treasures federal grant, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior; Save America's Treasures at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, including major support from: The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, Marin Community Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust's Preservation Planning Fund, and Ms. Yeni Wong; The National Trust for Historic Preservation through: American Express Partners in Preservation program, in partnership with the American Express Foundation, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors, and The Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation; California Cultural and Historical Endowment; California Parks Bond Act of 2000, Gee Family Foundation, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Walter and Elise Haas Fund, and J.T. Tai & Company Foundation.

Additional Funders
Thomas & Eva Fong Family Foundation, Ken Lee Family Foundation, Lawrence Choy Lowe Memorial Fund, and Look Lowe Family Trust.

With special appreciation to the following
Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee, Architectural Resources Group, California State Parks Foundation, California State Senator John Burton, Donald Bybee, Chris Chow, Paul Chow, Phillip Choy, Ruth Coleman, Charles Egan, Erika Gee, Nicholas Franco, Forrest Gok, Elizabeth Goldstein, Dave Gould, Tod Hara, Daniel Iacofano, Kathy Lim Ko, Kimball Koch, Daphne Kwok, Him Mark Lai, Erika Lee, Newton Liu, Wan Liu, Felicia Lowe, David Matthews, Dale Minami, Ray Murray, Brian O'Neill, National Archives-San Francisco, Francelle Phillips, Daniel Quan Design, Danita Rodriguez, Douglas Tom, Katherine Toy, Kathy Owyang Turner, Xing Chu Wang, Connie Yung Yu, and Judy Yung.