San Francisco Immigration Station Marks 100th Anniversary

Angel Island Immgration StationAngel_Island_Immigration_Station_b.jpg

Today's San Francisco Chronicle profiles the complex history of Angel Island, an immigration station opened 100 years ago to process new immigrants into the United States. The article quotes a retired professor of American studies who is writing a book on the immigration status as declaring "Angel Island is a symbol of both inclusion and exclusion." More than 500,000 people passed through Angel Island between 1910 and 1940. Almost one third of them were Asian, and the immigration laws at that time were designed to limit Asian immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act, in effect until 1943, allowed only certain classes of Chinese immigrants to be admitted - scholars, clergy, merchants, and the children of American citizens. Thousands of Chinese, as well as other Asian immigrants, and Russian refugees from the Bolshevik Revolution, were detained on Angel Island for up to a year at a time while their case was evaluated.

Many Chinese immigrants passing through Angel Island had false papers claiming to be a child of Chinese American citizens so that they would be able to enter the U.S. The article reports that these "paper sons" spent a great deal of time studying the background of their supposed ancestors, and immigration officers tried to ferret out these "paper sons" through extensive interrogation. If caught, they were shipped back to China, but if they succeeded they were admitted to American. Many Chinese American families have this unique legacy of descending from "paper sons".

The government first opened the immigration station on Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay, on Jan. 21, 1910, and immigrants were taken there from San Francisco by small steamers. The immigration station was closed after a fire in 1940. Angel Island is now a state park, and the immigration station buildings have been restored. Many of them have poems written on the walls by immigrants detained there.

by Michelle Gee