Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

Overview

Angel Island, off the coast of California, was the port of entry for Asian immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1940. Following the passage of legislation requiring the screening of immigrants, "the other Ellis Island" processed around one million people from Japan, China, and Korea. Drawing from memoirs, diaries, letters, and the "wall poems" discovered at the facility long after it closed, the nonfiction master Russell Freedman describes the people who came, and why; the screening process;...

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Overview

Angel Island, off the coast of California, was the port of entry for Asian immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1940. Following the passage of legislation requiring the screening of immigrants, "the other Ellis Island" processed around one million people from Japan, China, and Korea. Drawing from memoirs, diaries, letters, and the "wall poems" discovered at the facility long after it closed, the nonfiction master Russell Freedman describes the people who came, and why; the screening process; detention and deportation; changes in immigration policy; and the eventual renaissance of Angel Island as a historic site open to visitors. Includes archival photos, source notes, bibliography, and index.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/21/2013
Freedman (Becoming Ben Franklin) details the fascinating and sometimes upsetting history of the “Ellis Island of the West” as he examines Asian immigration to the U.S. at the start of the 20th century. The many Chinese immigrants who disembarked at Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940 usually found it more detention than welcoming center. A thorough narrative, with personal vignettes and b&w archival photos, describes the taxing sea voyage from Asia, long detentions at the island, and intolerant attitudes endemic in America. Owing to strict exclusion laws for the Chinese (and later other Asian groups), thousands waited in cramped barracks for medical tests and stringent interviews. (Freedman also includes resistance stories of immigrants already settled in the country to these prejudicial laws, e.g., returning laundry to customers folded but still dirty.) Making this poignant account even more so are translated poems interspersed throughout, written by despairing detainees on barrack walls: “Nights are long, the pillow cold; who can comfort my solitude?.... Shouldn’t I just return home and learn to plow the fields?” A selected bibliography and index are included. Ages 9–12. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"Equally evocative and informative, this is an excellent choice for middle school libraries."
School Library Journal, starred review

"Carefully researched and clearly written."
Booklist, starred review

"This is a clearly written account of a lesser-known side of American immigration history that may add to readers' understanding of current political debate."
The Horn Book Magazine

"As immigration continues to be a major issue in America, this introduction to the Angel Island experience is overdue and, most of all, welcome."
Kirkus, starred review

"A thorough narrative, with personal vignettes and b&w archival photos. . . Making this poignant account even more so are translated poems interspersed throughout, written by despairing detainees on barrack walls."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Most spreads feature one or more photographs, slightly oversized text, and generous margins, making this an appealing selection for readers who find nonfiction daunting."
Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books
"Freedman’s book uses clear narrative language to pay tribute to the thousands of souls who passed through this prisonlike entryway, [Angel Island]."
VOYA

From the Publisher
"Equally evocative and informative, this is an excellent choice for middle school libraries."
School Library Journal, starred review

"Carefully researched and clearly written."
Booklist, starred review

"This is a clearly written account of a lesser-known side of American immigration history that may add to readers' understanding of current political debate."
The Horn Book Magazine

"As immigration continues to be a major issue in America, this introduction to the Angel Island experience is overdue and, most of all, welcome."
Kirkus, starred review

"A thorough narrative, with personal vignettes and b&w archival photos. . . Making this poignant account even more so are translated poems interspersed throughout, written by despairing detainees on barrack walls."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Most spreads feature one or more photographs, slightly oversized text, and generous margins, making this an appealing selection for readers who find nonfiction daunting."
Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books

VOYA, February 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 6) - Kristi Sadowski
While thousands of European immigrants were entering the United States through Ellis Island, thousands more immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe were entering through Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Closed in the 1940s and nearly destroyed in the 1970s, the community fought to preserve this reminder of their heritage. Freedman’s book uses clear narrative language to pay tribute to the thousands of souls who passed through this prisonlike entryway. Starting with the importance of saving this landmark to those that passed through and their descendants, the story breaks away to briefly but efficiently cover the history of the island, its purpose, and the experience of the immigrants who passed through. There were prejudicial laws that limited America’s accessibility, particularly to the Chinese—and eventually Japanese and many Asiatic areas. The history of these groups and laws is also covered. Concluding with a reminder of cultural significance and a message akin to those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, this is certainly a work welcome in any library. Accessible and well paced, it is sure to have students seeking additional resources to continue their exploration of the topic. Reviewer: Kristi Sadowski; Ages 11 to 15.
School Library Journal
★ 09/01/2013
Gr 5–8—For the 30 years it was in operation, from 1910–1940, Angel Island Immigration Station served as the first step for hundreds of thousands of people seeking a new home and a new life in the United States. It was a bleak, unwelcoming introduction to the new land, and for many immigrants, primarily those from China, it was also a detention center. Many Chinese were held there for weeks or months at a time while they endured lengthy interviews and invasive medical exams in order to prove that they could enter the U.S. Freedman's inimitable style and approach to nonfiction writing shines in this accessible, thoughtful history of Angel Island and its legacy in the American immigration narrative. Detailed descriptions of the island, the actual building, the events that took place there, and the people who passed through its doors are sprinkled with the emotional poems, quotes, and other writings that were discovered covering the walls of the areas where the detainees were housed. These words provide not only a unique perspective of the immigrants, but also a context for what was happening in the broader world, specifically the racist, xenophobic attitudes encountered by many new arrivals. Complemented by photographs, artwork, and primary sources, Freedman's writing offers up a strong, engaging introduction to the subject of a more diverse immigrant population and the obstacles that were put in its way. Equally evocative and informative, this is an excellent choice for middle school libraries.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-09
Writing with clarity, Newbery Medal winner Freedman (Becoming Ben Franklin, 2013, etc.) explores a lesser-known period in U.S. immigration history, when the San Francisco Golden Gate was anything but welcoming. Opened to enforce exclusion laws, the Angel Island Immigration Station, often called the Ellis Island of the West, served as the primary gateway to the Pacific Coast between 1910 and 1940. Over half a million people from more than 80 different countries were processed there, the majority of them from China. In telling the history of Chinese people in the U.S., the author doesn't hold back on the racial discrimination these immigrants faced, including the passing of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Despite that, immigrants came, but they faced interrogations and long periods of detention on Angel Island. Here, the experience is made most vivid and poignant when Freedman weaves in the recollections of detainees, including "picture brides" and refugees, taken from books and videos. The historical photos of Angel Island life, notably the poems expressing frustration carved in Chinese calligraphy into the barracks walls (gracefully reproduced as design accents on front- and backmatter), bring depth and perspective to a dark period in American history. In this case, the walls do talk. As immigration continues to be a major issue in America, this introduction to the Angel Island experience is overdue and, most of all, welcome. (source notes, selected bibliography, acknowledgments, picture credits) (Nonfiction. 9-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547903781
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 298,229
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Mr. Freedman lives in New York City and travels widely to research his books.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Where the Walls Speak

Alexander Weiss had just started his job as a California state park ranger on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay when he came across an old abandoned building. Off limits to the public, its windows boarded up, the two-story wooden structure stood dark and deserted behind a barbed wire fence. On an impulse, Weiss decided to venture inside and look around.
   He pulled open the door. The floor creaked as he entered. The electricity had long since been turned off, so he found his way through the empty rooms and up the stairs with his flashlight, stepping over litter and broken glass. Paint was peeling from the walls and ceiling. The building smelled musty.
   In a large room on the second floor, Weiss noticed markings that seemed to be carved into the walls. Moving closer, he saw that the marks appeared to be Chinese calligraphy, covered by a thin layer of chipped paint.
   “I looked around and shined my flashlight up and I could see that the entire walls were covered with calligraphy, and that was what blew me away,” he remembered. “People had carved the stuff on every square inch of wall space, not just in this one room but all over.”
   Although he couldn’t read the inscriptions, he recognized their historical importance. Angel Island had once been a busy immigration station, where people hoping to enter the United States were examined and questioned and often held for days or weeks or even months while immigration officials decided their fate. For many immigrants, Angel Island was the gateway to a new life in America. But for others—those who were denied entry to the United States—it was a locked gate through which they caught just a glimpse of America before they were sent back to their native land.
   While waiting for their cases to be decided, Chinese immigrants carved or painted row after row of poems on the walls of their detention barracks, telling of their long voyages from China, their confinement on the lonely island, their longing for families back home, their hopes, frustration, anger, and despair. And while Chinese were the most numerous immigrants to pass through Angel Island, immigrants from all over the world left wall inscriptions of various kinds in Japanese, Korean, Russian, Punjabi, Spanish, Italian, German, and English.
   When Weiss reported his discovery, he was told that the calligraphy and other inscriptions were just “a bunch of graffiti” and to forget about them. The abandoned building was about to be torn down, part of the island’s redevelopment as a state park.
   But Weiss couldn’t forget. He felt so strongly about the historical importance of his discovery, he was willing to risk his job to help save the poems and inscriptions on the detention barracks walls. “Actually, I am also an immigrant,” he explained, “so I have an empathy with immigrants.”
   Born in Vienna, Austria, Weiss had been brought to America as a four-year-old Jewish refugee when his parents fled from the Holocaust during World War II. “I didn’t discover the poems,” he insisted. “They had been there for years, and other people knew they were there. But I am proud of the fact that I was able to [help save them].”
   He came across the poems on an afternoon in May 1970. When his superior told him not to bother with them, Weiss alerted George Araki, who had been his biology professor at San Francisco State College. The professor’s mother had come through Angel Island as a Japanese immigrant. Araki went to the island to see the poems for himself, and he had a photographer take pictures of every inch of wall that had inscriptions.
   After araki showed the photos at a meeting of the Asian American Studies Department, students and faculty began to ride the ferry out to Angel Island to view the wall poems. “They were all young Asian American students,” Weiss recalled, “whose parents and grandparents had come through Angel Island, but they had no idea of this history because their parents would not talk about it.”
   As word spread, activists in the Asian American community launched a campaign to save the Angel Asland Ammigration Station. “I really felt it in my bones that this was a story that needed to be told,” said journalist Chris Chow, “a historic landmark that needed to be saved.”

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