Angel Island: A bitter stop in pursuit of American dream

Chinese take a physical exam at the immigration station in the Angel Island. Photo:

Angel Island was a hell for Chinese immigrants.

The island, covering an area of 3.1 square kilometers in San Francisco Bay, was a gateway for Chinese immigrants to enter the US in the early 1900s. The early trailblazers came across the ocean all the way to a land of hope, only to find their American dream dented by discrimination and prejudice.

There was a detention center on the island to process the Chinese newcomers. From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station handled approximately 1 million Asian immigrants entering into the US, including 175,000 Chinese. Those Chinese could be interned in the detention house for up to a few years waiting to be checked in. Thousands died in the house and thousands were deported, marking a period of humiliating and agonizing history for Chinese immigrants.

It takes half an hour to get to the Angel Island by a ferry boat from San Francisco’s Fisherman Wharf. Midway through to the island lies an islet called Devil, which used to be the federal prison.

The immigration station now serves as a museum. In the museum, you can see distressing words like “missing home” etched on the wooden wall by early immigrants from Taiwan and Guangdong province.

After a one-month grueling journey on a ship with little food and water, the only thing awaiting those pioneers on arrival was a dark room and lengthy lonely nights. They had to wait from two months to two years for being interrogated with questions like, “How many trees are there in your family?” “How many hens do you feed?”

Chinese chess, abacus and shoes of bund-feet women are some witnesses left by those struggling Chinese who endured immense bitterness and torment on an island named Angel. A fire destroyed the administration building in 1940, and the subsequent immigration processing was moved to San Francisco city.

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