Angel Island Immigration Station: The Hidden History

Angel Island Immigration Station: The Hidden History

On September 2, 2020, over 160 educators from across the United States joined a webinar titled “Angel Island Immigration Station: The Hidden History.”
Image from Angel Island: The Chinese American Experience Image from "Angel Island: The Chinese American Experience"; illustration by Rich Lee, Rich Lee Draws!!!

On September 2, 2020, over 160 educators from across the United States joined a webinar titled “Angel Island Immigration Station: The Hidden History.” The Angel Island Immigration Station was located in San Francisco Bay and was operational from 1910 to 1940. It was established in order to control and enforce the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and other immigration-related laws that followed, e.g., the Immigration Act of 1924, which included the Asian Exclusion Act and the National Origins Act.

The featured speaker was Connie Young Yu, a writer, activist, and historian. Yu has written and spoken extensively about the contrasts between Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor—in which immigrants primarily from Europe were welcomed by an image of the Statue of Liberty—and Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay where immigrants entering the United States primarily from Asia were detained and interrogated. The largest detained group of immigrants was from China. Reflecting on the webinar, Yu commented:

I was glad to share my “hidden history” during the SPICE webinar, including the saving of the immigration barracks in the 1970s and my grandmother’s lengthy detention on Angel Island. The immigration station barracks—now a national monument—were nearly destroyed had it not been for Ranger Alexander Weiss and the activism of a citizens’ committee. The writing on the barracks’ walls by Chinese detainees still speaks to us today of peoples’ struggle against immigration exclusion and institutionalized racism.

The webinar can be viewed below.

Yu’s talk was followed by SPICE’s Jonas Edman who worked with graphic artist Rich Lee to publish Angel Island: The Chinese-American Experience. Edman shared scenes and activities from this graphic novel that tell the story of Chinese immigrants who were detained at Angel Island Immigration Station. The graphic novel has been widely used nationally to educate students about immigration to the United States from China. Yu remarked, “I was thrilled to hear from Jonas Edman about the brilliant graphic novel, Angel Island: The Chinese American Experience. At last, as part of the curriculum, students can learn in living color about how the detainees struggled and endured, the human side of Chinese immigration exclusion.”

Given the prevalence of immigration-related news over the past several years, several teachers in attendance noted the importance for school curricula to include topics related to immigration history in the United States. Following the webinar, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation’s Executive Director Edward Tepporn reflected:

Growing up in Texas, I didn’t learn about Angel Island and its significant role in our nation’s complex history until after I moved to the Bay Area… Especially as racism and xenophobia are on the rise in the U.S., it’s important to uplift the full history of how our nation has treated its diverse immigrant communities, including the injustices they have endured as well as their important contributions.

Edman suggests that teachers consider asking students essential questions like: How and why did U.S. immigration policy favor certain groups and not others? What impact did laws such as the U.S. federal law, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, have on Chinese immigration to the United States? In what ways did Chinese immigrants advocate for themselves and actively respond to discrimination and exclusion? How is U.S. immigration policy similar and different today? Also, Edman highly recommends teachers to visit the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website, which includes excellent teaching resources, including primary sources.

The webinar was made possible through the support of the Freeman Foundation’s National Consortium for Teaching about Asia initiative. The webinar was a joint collaboration between SPICE and Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies. Special thanks to Dr. Dafna Zur, CEAS Director, and John Groschwitz, CEAS Associate Director, for their support; and to SPICE’s Naomi Funahashi for facilitating the webinar and Sabrina Ishimatsu for planning the webinar.

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