When visiting San Francisco, many tourists will no doubt take the opportunity to visit Angel Island State Park, a National Historic Landmark since 1997.
Visitors can take in the magnificent views of the Bay Area from this natural piece of heaven on earth where once upon a time, before the United States existed, the Miwok Native Americans made the most of the island of 740 acres as a fishing and hunting site. It was also the island where Spanish explorers, the first Europeans to first enter San Francisco Bay in 1775, anchored their ship offshore. At the helm and master of the ship was Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish naval officer who played a key role in the European exploration of California, and also known for drawing one of the first maps of the Bay of San Francisco.
But as those who visit the island soon discover, the story of Angel Island has become rather ugly in the early 20th century when it served as an immigrant processing station.
From 1910 to 1940 a deportation center was in effect on the island and unlike European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in New York, immigrants arriving at Angel Island were not welcomed or treated with the dignity and respect they deserved, with the overwhelming majority facing openly discriminatory attitudes.
Those arriving in the United States via Angel Island were predominantly Asians, mostly from China or other Asian countries, such as Japan, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, Korea, and Vietnam. If you think your ancestors may have arrived in the United States via Angel Island, you can still check your ancestry and find out your family history.
During its 30 years of operation as a processing station, approximately 500,000 immigrants from 80 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Mexico, Canada, and Central and South America, were processed through Angel Island.
However, it is mainly people of Asian descent who would be subjected to lengthy interrogation and detention to prevent illegal entry.
Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, US immigration officials were required to screen every Chinese passenger who arrived by boat in San Francisco before they could be allowed to disembark. Asian immigrants who crossed the Pacific Ocean were regularly inspected, disinfected and detained at the immigration station. Only a few were allowed to enter the United States, as immigrants were subjected to extensive interrogations to prevent entry.
In 1970, over 200 poems were discovered written by Chinese immigrants on the wooden walls of the detention center expressing their feelings of isolation, loneliness and discrimination while there. These sculptures are now an important legacy in the history of Pacific immigration and American heritage.
A visit to the deportation center, which closed due to a fire and is currently partially open, will make the history of immigration to the United States rethink. Angel Island is the perfect example of a part of history that for decades has been relegated, hidden, untold.
However, history should be written by everyone, and many San Francisco residents whose ancestors arrived in the United States via Angel Island deserve the same recognition as those who arrived via Ellis Island.