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Angel Island: A History

By William Zeng

Angel Island State Park, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay. The California Department of Parks and Recreation claims that Angel Island offers some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area, great hiking trails, and many other recreational opportunities. Beyond this, Angel Island also carries a fascinating history related to the journey behind Chinese immigration.

In 1910, Angel Island was not a park. Unlike going to a park, going to Angel Island was definitely not something to look forward to. For thirty years, the island served as a place for detaining and processing thousands of immigrants coming into the United States, mostly Chinese. The Angel Island Immigration Station. Upon arrival, families were separated, men from the women and children. After a series of humiliating medical exams, the immigrants awaited interrogation, which was described to be gruesome and stressful by the immigrants.

Within Angel Island Immigration Station, immigrants could be detained for up to 22 months, forced to endure the repeated questionings. Treated like prisoners, or animals in a zoo, many turned to poetry, which can still be seen written on the walls of the now abandoned station. These poems allow one to look into the perspective of the immigrant and realize the struggle that many of them faced. One poem refers to the station as a “prison”, and claims that they “were victimized” as if they “were guilty.”

To add to these demeaning conditions, there were also many concerns for the safety and sanitation of the immigrants on Angel Island. In 1940, for example, there was a fire that burned down the administration building, proving these safety concerns to be well founded, and relocating all the immigrants to another facility. In the end, it was estimated that one million immigrants had been processed at Angel Island Immigration Station.

Today a cheerful park, there lies a history of struggle within Angel Island. Dehumanized, subject to horrendous conditions. It is important and fulfilling to remember and revitalize the narratives and experiences of the Chinese immigrants that lie embedded within this island.

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