Asian American Recs Week / Day 4: Angel Island DAY 4: Angel Island: Angel Island, a picturesque island in the San Francisco Bay, was the entry point for tens of thousands of Asian immigrants--mostly Chinese and Japanese, but also Filipino, South Asian, and Russian--who arrived in the United States between 1910 and 1940. Because of extremely strict, discriminatory regulations on Asian immigration set in place in the late nineteenth century, men, women, and children were detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station for weeks and sometimes months at a time while their qualifications to enter the country were questioned.
In order to gain entrance, Chinese immigrants had to prove that they were the sons or daughters of male US citizens--a difficult task, since there were few official records to prove paternity. Officials were often hostile, and immigrants withstood intense questioning about their families and home towns before they were admitted. Many immigrants, denied any other way of entering the US, had arranged to represent themselves as the child of a US citizen who was not their father. These immigrants were later known as the "paper sons" and "paper daughters" of their sponsors.
In person: If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or ever have a chance to visit, Angel Island, now a state park, is a wonderful day trip. The island is accessible by ferry from San Francisco, Oakland, and Marin County, and the views of San Francisco, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge are beautiful. Most of the immigration station buildings are still standing, abandoned, and you can walk through the same spaces where immigrants stayed during detention and see the poetry painted and carved on the walls by detainees.
Online: There are some good sites that show you the immigrant experience at Angel Island. The classroom magazine Scholastic recounts the story of one seven-year-old girl as she leaves China and arrives in San Francisco in 1933. The local public television station KQED has put together a short, introductory video that takes you inside some of the old buildings and introduces you to some immigrants who came through Angel Island, as well as a site about the poetry from the walls of the station, where you can read transcriptions and hear the poems read aloud in Mandarin and Cantonese.