Several months ago Lastech and I were invited to go to Angel Island. While there, we took the tram tour. We did that as we had no opportunity to hike the trails at the time. My photos are limited as a result. I’ve been saving the last few as they are mostly of the the Immigration Center exterior but they are meaningful to me. In 2010, President Obama declared January 21st as National Angel Island Day.
I’ve spent my life surrounded by immigrants. Lastech is an immigrant and most of my friends are immigrants as well. One of my grandfathers came through Ellis Island. Sadly, unlike beautiful Ellis Island, Angel Island was built as a detention camp. The barracks were cramped and afforded little in the way of privacy and conditions there were deplorable. It was built to enforce the Chinese Exclusionary act of 1882. Economic fears and racial prejudice were the reason for act. From the proclamation (above link):
Unlike immigrants who marveled at the Statue of Liberty upon arrival at Ellis Island, those who came to Angel Island were greeted by an intake facility that was sometimes called the “Guardian of the Western Gate.” Racially prejudiced immigration laws of the time subjected many to rigorous exams and interrogations, as well as detention in crowded, unsanitary barracks. Some expressed themselves by carving poetry and inscriptions into the walls in their native language — from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to Russian, German, and Urdu. These etchings remain on Angel Island today as poignant reminders of the immigrant experience and an unjust time in our history.
The station was abandoned after WWII and scheduled for demolition. In 1970, a park ranger named Alexander Weiss was exploring when he came across Chinese characters carved into the walls. It was the poetry. Due to his efforts and those of others, legislation was passed to preserve the poetry. You can read more about the station history here.
This is a translation of one of the poems
There are tens of thousands of poems on these walls
They are all cries of suffering and sadness
The day I am rid of this prison and become successful
I must remember that this chapter once existed
I must be frugal in my dailyneeds
Needless extravagance usually leads to ruin
All my compatriots should remember China
Once you have made some small gains,
you should return home early.
Written by one from Heungshan
There is writing and poetry from other languages and cultures as well.
Now here are some of our pics. We intend to go back when we can hike to the center and visit the museum.
If you want to see our other posts about our Angel Island trip, you can find them here.