Poems and Inscriptions

Over 200 poems and a hundred other inscriptions were left on the walls of the Detention Barracks.

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The poetry and inscriptions carved into the detention barrack walls has long been the centerpiece of Angel Island Immigration Station’s rebirth as a historic site. They represent a remarkable account of a forgotten chapter of American history. They are unique in that they are the voices of future Americans before such a wish was ever a certainty. The inscriptions express feelings of outrage at the harsh treatment immigrants received, vow revenge against “barbarian” captors, long for home and family far away, and question whether their American dream would ever become a reality.

Because of its centrality to the site and its history, the poetry and inscriptions have been the focus of two studies since 2000. The studies, a documentation and assessment of their condition, revealed a proliferation of carved poetry beyond the 135 translated poems previously completed for the book Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 (Seattle: University of Washington Press).

Identified at the Barracks

  • 220 Chinese poems

  • 96 Chinese inscriptions

  • 89 English inscriptions

  • 62 Japanese inscriptions

  • 33 Chinese graphic images

  • 4 European language inscriptions

Additionally, there are a small number of inscriptions made by Korean, Russian, and South Asian immigrants.

Selected poems can be found here.