Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain by Russell Freedman, Clarion Books, Boston, 2013.
This book starts with a historical preservation project.  Alexander Weiss, a California State Park Ranger was new to Treasure Island.  He happened upon the barracks of the immigration station on Angel Island.  This was not open to the public.  He was astonished by the number of Chinese calligraphy and poems left on the walls of this building.  In this calligraphy was a story, not always a very happy story.
The immigration station opened in 1910.  Before this, immigration issues were handled in San Francisco, but the need became to large.  Immigrants who were allowed ashore were accepted in San Francisco, while those who were not were ferried to Angel Island.  It was touted as a clean and modern facility, but quickly it was overcrowded.  Because of Chinese Exclusion laws which had been passed, immigrants were not allowed from China.  This eventually was deemed constitutional, and individuals were obligated to comply.  Those who could still come were family members of Chinese American Citizens. 
As a result, there was a considerable amount of interrogation and manipulation which took place as part of this review process.  This included a medical exam, of people who were not use to American medicine, and people dressed in white at funerals.   It also included a great deal of interrogation.  Eventually this was general for all people passing, but more for Asian people seeking to immigrate to the U.S.  The process could be lengthy, and sometimes people interred in what seemed like prison for weeks and months.  Often people were deported, but they could appeal.  The majority of those going through the station were eventually allowed to pass.
The station was active until 1940.  At that time, a fire took the main building and it was not rebuilt.  Immigration services were moved to Los Angeles. 
They buildings preserved, have now become a National Historical Site with museum.

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