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The History of Angel Island

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

The Angel Island Immigration Station was the primary immigration facility on the West Coast of the United States from 1910 to 1940, similar to Ellis Island on the East Coast. Immigrants from a variety of areas met the wooden buildings of Angel Island, but Asians in particular traveled across the Pacific. However, many were subject to discriminatory policies and were often detained under oppressive conditions anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months before being allowed to enter the US.

Asians were initially welcomed into the US, but were blamed for the collapse of the local economy by newspapers, politicians, and the local population. This led to targeted laws against the Chinese being passed at the local and state level. Moreover, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed at the federal level, which prompted even more discriminatory acts. America had begun to limit immigration on the basis of nationality. 

The conditions of these detention centers were substandard. Space and privacy were limited, and the facilities were filthy due to the lack of janitorial services. Some detainees even fell ill and died. Detainees also endured mental stress. Families were separated and not allowed to see each other until their cases were resolved. Detainees faced grueling interrogations, and had to stick to exact details and stories to avoid deportation. Due to the difficulty of entering America as a Chinese immigrant, many masqueraded as the relatives of Chinese American citizens to avoid deportation. These were called “paper sons” or “paper daughters.” 

Immigrating to America was a difficult process filled with discrimination, and it is important to remember the hardships immigrants faced. Many organizations fought for reform and petitioned these acts, such as the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Angel Island Liberty Association, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and more. Still others provided entertainment, English classes, and other small services to help detainees. The work of those who fought and endured discrimination before  inspired us to create an organization fighting prejudice and providing care, named after Angel Island.


Claire Lee

Director of Graphic Design and Human Resources

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