Angel Island is a beautiful place for a picnic, a picture perfect location for tourists and locals alike. But the real beauty lies in its history. I am a fourth generation San Franciscan who grew up in Marin County, but it wasn’t until I was an adult with children of my own that I understood my personal connection to this gem.
The largest island located in the midst of San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has a long and rich history. Occupied first by Coastal Miwok Indians, it was visited and named by Spanish explorers in the 1700’s. Later, there was a cattle ranch. Eventually the U.S. federal government took hold of the island. An army base operated there during the civil war. A quarantine station opened in 1891, and from 1910 to 1940, the government operated an immigration station. Though most immigrants were Chinese, individuals came from all over the world, including approximately 85,000 Japanese. POW’s were detained on the island during World War II, among them, hundreds of Japanese immigrants from Hawaii and the mainland who were declared Enemy Aliens. [i]
Over the past several decades, Angel Island became better known a place for recreation. Fortunately, numerous individuals have worked tirelessly to preserve the historical site. The Immigration Station Barracks now serve as a museum. The former Immigration Station Hospital is currently being renovated.
On July 19, 2014, the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation hosted a Family Reunion Day. Led by AIISF Community Relations Director Grant Din, speakers presented information about Chinese, Japanese and Russian immigrants, as well as employees who lived and worked there. This was particularly personal for me. My English immigrant great grandfather worked as a night watchman in the Quarantine Station for 11 years, during which time many of my husband’s Japanese family members were “processed” through the Immigration Station. My children’s history is two sided; speaking about both sides of their ancestry at this event was truly a privilege.
For additional information regarding the preservation of this historical site, please visit AIISF.org.
The Nichi Bei Foundation will host a Japanese American pilgrimage to the island on October 4, 2014. Please visit NichiBei.org later this summer for details.
[i]Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 9-27.