Angel Island immigrants are an important part of California's history. Read on to learn more about these Asian travelers who took the leap of faith toward freedom and a better life.
What is Angel Island?
Angel Island Immigration Station, similar to the Ellis Island Immigration Station on its opposing coast, is located in the San Francisco Bay in Northern California. From the years 1910 to 1940, the island served as one of the largest immigration stations on the West coast. Over 175,000 immigrants from China, Korea, and other Asian nations came to the island via ferry, and often had to live there for quite some time while fighting to gain access to the mainland. Emotionally drained and distraught prisoners of the island often carved poetry into the buildings found on its land, expressing the pain and frustration of being caught between their old world and hope for a new life.
When Angel Island immigrants were redirected to San Francisco's mainland starting in the 1940s, the island became a state park and is now a National Historic Landmark. The Immigration Station, which countless individuals passed through, is now a tourist destination, and two working lighthouses now reside on the island.
The Journey of Angel Island Immigrants
Those who made it onto the boats journeying to Angel Island often did not feel protected by angels at all upon their arrival. Many women were treated harshly, and after an evaluation of their physical and emotional worth, many were deported back to Asia. Upon their return, many of them were sold into slavery in regions such as Hong Kong.
Another way to try to avoid deportation before it became an issue, was to be what was known as a "Japanese Picture Bride." These Angel Island immigrants arrived in California during the years 1908 to 1924, and while some were the wives and children of laborers already working in San Francisco and beyond, the majority were the subjects of arranged marriages.
Marriages were coordinated upon factors such as income, family heritage, and personality prons and cons. Mailing a photograph of oneself was often the first step, thus the name "picture brides." If a match was made, the name of the woman was recorded into the husband's family registry, which made the marriage legal and valid. Once this happened, the women arrived at the detention barracks at Angel Island. Then, they were given medical examinations and often saw their husbands for the first time. Not surprisingly, many women were more than likely disappointed, not at all experiencing "love at first sight." While men almost always saw pictures of their future wives, many men did not reciprocate, remaining either a pleasant or awful mystery to the woman until she had already arrived, with no choice but to stick around and try to make it work.
The Evolution of Immigration
When you see San Francisco today, you will notice the various neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Japantown. These are a direct result of the booming immigration of this earlier time period. After the small California city became overwhelmed with Asian immigrants, a law was passed to ban Japanese immigrants from arriving in Angel Island. Then, the law was changed to allow 100 immigrants per year, and the amount of Asian immigration to the California area has remained under control ever since.
Once the immigrants arrived, their lifestyle was rooted mainly in agriculture. Others worked for the railroads and canneries in the area. Thanks to the Japanese workers that many people argued against, more than 100,000 acres of land were taken over for San Francisco. In turn, the families of immigrants experienced the benefits of living in the "new world." Children were able to attend schools and receive a better education than they would at home. The above mentioned Asian neighborhoods or townships flourished, and life was sweet until the battles of World War II when many Japanese Americans were held prisoner and killed in concentration camps.
Today, the American dream lives on in the descendants of these brave Angel Island immigrants. The choices they made have improved the quality of life for generations that have come and will follow. With any hope, their stories will live on as well.