Angel Island
~~ Guardian of the Western Gate ~~


In 1905 construction of an immigration station began in an area known as China Cove on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Surrounded by public controversy from its inception, the immigration center began operation on January 21, 1910, and comprised of a pier, barracks, hospital, utility structures, and a large administration building. Although publically called the "Ellis Island of the West," it was internally called by the INS as the "Guardian of the Western Gate." It's internal moniker reflected that the center existed for the sole reason to control the flow of Chinese immgration that had been oppressed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

As such, the "immigration center" was nothing more then a detention center. A very unsanitary one a that. Numerous examiners found inadequate sanitation, fireproofing, dormitory and hospital conditions. Fresh water had to be brought in by barge to adequately supply the population. It reached the point that in 1922, the whole facility was declared filthy and unfit for human habitation. However, official inertia delayed a decision regarding a move to the mainland.

For 30 years, immigrants from Russia, India, Korea, Japan, Africa, Europe, Australia, the Philippines and other Pacific Rim nations would pass through the Immigration Center at Angel Island. However, Chinese immigrants were always detained the longest. And almost always interrogated because officals worked under the fact that all Chinese immigrants entered false pretences. During the interrogation, they would be forced to answer inane, obscure, and blatanly biased questions such as "What picture is hanging on which room of the house?" or "Where do your family members sleep?". In this, officals hoped to deport as many people as possible. Some committed sucide rather then face a humiliating deporation.

However, one group that could not be deported were those who were, or had a father* who was an American citizen. Since 1868, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship by jus soli (i.e. Automatic citizenship if born in the United States). Also, the children of citizens are citizens, regardless of birthplace. As such, any Chinese who could prove citizenship because of this could not be denied citizenship. However, they could be delayed if the needed witnesses resided on the east coast of the nation.

Those without fathers in the United States often bought falsified documents identifying them as children of American citizens, giving rise to the term "paper daughters/sons." Since offical records usually did not exist, a seperate interrogation process was created to see if they were truly related to the people on the paper. In order to pass the tough examination, they would study the detailed information on the papers to pass.

The massive amounts of immigrants that went through Angel Island created a backlog, people waiting for their interrogation or technicalities would be housed in single sex barracks. A stay at the station, although usually 2 to 3 weeks, could last from months to years. To pass the time, many detainees spent their time etching poetry into the walls of the barracks which reflected the fears and frustrations they endured.

In 1940 the government decided to close down the facility, however, a fire destroyed the Administration Building, hastening its demise. Three years later the Chinese Exclusion Acts were finally abolished. Upon closing of the immigration station, it was returned to the United States Army and became the North Garrison of Fort McDowell with the old detention barracks becoming a Prisoner of War Processing Center where German and Japanese POWs were processed before being shipped to camps in Arizona and other places. In 1942, the North Garrison was enlarged with several more barracks, a mess hall, and a recreation building.

Following the end of the war, Fort McDowell was no longer needed and closed on August 28, 1946, however, in 1954 the Army placed a Nike AA missile battery on the island. Although abandoned after the Nike's became obsolete in 1962, and the missiles removed, the southeast corner of the island that housed the battery remains off-limits to park visitors.

The former base became Angel Island State Park, however, little if any attention was paid to the care of the historic buildings and in 1970 the detention barracks were scheduled for demolition. However, Park Ranger Alexander Weiss discovered the poetry and with his and the efforts of Paul Chow, and the Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee, the barracks were saved from demolition and the California Legislature passed a resolution granting $250,000 to restore the barracks.

Today, the barracks house a museum with a re-creation of one of the rooms, and features some of the poetry found in the building. It echoes with the hardships and descrimination that the Chinese and all races have had to endure in hopes of achiveing a better life in "Gold Mountain."


* Women did not have separate citizenship from their parents or husband until the mid-1920s.


Sources
http://www.angel-island.com/
http://www.angelisland.org/
http://www.aiisf.org/