United States Immigration Station, Angel Island

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Angel Island, U.S. Immigration Station
Angel Island Immigration Station Dormitory b.jpg
Angel Island Dormitory
Nearest city Tiburon, California
Coordinates 37°52′11″N 122°25′34″W / 37.869712°N 122.426006°W / 37.869712; -122.426006Coordinates: 37°52′11″N 122°25′34″W / 37.869712°N 122.426006°W / 37.869712; -122.426006
Area 731.8 acres (296.1 ha)
Built 1775
Architect Unknown
Architectural style Mission/Spanish Revival
Governing body State
NRHP Reference # 71000164[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 14, 1971
Designated NHLD December 9, 1997[2]

Angel Island Immigration Station was an immigrant processing facility on Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay. It opened in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1][3][4] It is now the site of a museum. The museum and grounds were renovated and reopened to the public in February 2009. President Barack Obama, on the day of his inauguration declared January 21 as national Angel Island Day[5] in honor of all the immigrants who suffered long periods of detention before they were admitted to America.

Angel Island bell.jpg
Angel island lg.jpg


The reconstructed detention center located at the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Asian immigration can be dated back to "1788 with a crew of Chinese shipbuilders, carpenters, metal workers, and sailors."[6] The government responded to the influx of immigration by instating a series of exclusion acts. Asian immigration quotas began with the Page Act of 1875, which essentially eliminated standard citizenship rights to the Chinese-Americans, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which essentially banned all Chinese immigration. Citizenship issues arose and Angel Island, "the Ellis Island of the West," officially opened as an immigration station in 1910 lasting through the Great Depression until 1940 when an electrical fire burned down the administration building. Angel Island Immigration Station served as the processing center for most of the 56,113 Chinese immigrants who are recorded as immigrating or returning from vacation in China. The reason this number is so large, even though the 1882 Exclusion Act was renewed in 1892 and 1902, is because in 1924 the Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act and Immigration Act of 1924 (Asian Exclusion Act), limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States. Asian countries were not specifically mentioned in the list of quotas. They were in the category of "All others: 1,900" out of a total of 165,000 immigrants.[7]

Immigrant perspectives[edit]

The predominantly Chinese immigrants who were detained at Angel Island were not welcomed in the United States. As recounted by one detained in 1940: “When we arrived, they locked us up like criminals in compartments like the cages at the zoo.” Held in these “cages” for weeks, often months, individuals were subjected to rounds of interrogations to assess the legitimacy of their immigration applications. These interrogations were long, tiring, and stressful. Immigrants were made to recall minute details about their home and claimed relations—how many steps led up to your front door? Who lived in the third house in the second row of houses in your village? The interpreters for the proceedings may have not have spoken the particular dialect of the immigrant competently; most Chinese immigrants were from southern China at that time, many spoke Cantonese. It was difficult to pass the interrogations, and cases were appealed many times over before one could leave the island and enter the United States. Often, successful immigrants produced elaborate instruction manuals that coached fellow detainees in passing interrogations; if anyone was caught with these manuals, they would most likely be deported.

Many of the detainees turned to poetry as expression—they spilled their emotions onto the very walls that contained them. Many of these poems were written in pencil and ink, or in brush, and then carved into the wooden walls or floors.[8] Some of the poems are bitter and angry, placid and contemplative, or even hopeful.

“America has power, but not justice.
In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.
I bow my head in reflection but there is nothing I can do.”

Another example:

“I thoroughly hate the barbarians because they do not respect justice.
They continually promulgate harsh laws to show off their prowess.
They oppress the overseas Chinese and also violate treaties.
They examine for hookworms and practice hundreds of despotic acts.”[9]

A more hopeful example:

"Twice I have passed through the blue ocean, experienced the wind and dust of journey.
Confinement in the wooden building has pained me doubly.
With a weak country, we must all join together in urgent effort.
It depends on all of us together to roll back the wild wave." [10]

These poems are immensely important to architectural history, as they are the physical remnants that tell the story of these people and their memories.

National Historic Landmark[edit]

After 1941, the buildings at Angel Island suffered vandalism and deterioration, which resulted in a request for demolition in 1970. However, the findings of these poem carvings on its walls and floors saved the buildings from being destroyed. Since 1983, the barracks have been open to the public, and in 1997, the station became a National Historic Landmark. This marked the first steps toward the restoration of the station, as the poems guided the barracks’ restoration work by the Architectural Resources Group. According to senior associate with ARG and the preservation planner and historian on the project, “the site wasn’t understood or interpreted until the poetry was discovered." Today, more than 200 poems have been recovered and restored that represent important pieces of Asian American history.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ California NHL List
  3. ^ Welts, Allen W.; Gary W. Weaver (February 30, 1970 (sic.)). "Angel Island" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. Retrieved July 9, 2012. 
  4. ^ "United States Immigration Station, Angel Island". National Historic Landmark Quicklinks. National Park Service. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  5. ^ Presidential Proclamation, White Office Press Website
  6. ^ Okihiro, G. Y. 2001. Common Ground: Reimagining American History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Press. Chapter 1, “West and East”
  7. ^ "Who Was Shut Out?: Immigration Quotas, 1925–1927". Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1929
  8. ^ Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island 1910-1940. Seattle: U of Washington, 1991. Print.
  9. ^ Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910–1940 written by Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung
  10. ^ Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island 1910-1940. Seattle: U of Washington, 1991. Print.
  11. ^ Busch, Jennifer Thiele. “Poetry Lessons.” Contract 52.2 (2011): 32-37. Business Source Complete.

External links[edit]