The largest island in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is often overshadowed by its more famous sister, Alcatraz.
Activities and attractions offered on the island include picnic sites with breathtaking views, hiking trails through wooded terrain, biking on the five-mile Perimeter Road, camping, poking around historic military buildings and an educational tram tour.
The most popular attraction, however, is the old Immigration Station at China Cove. To those whose relatives passed through the old immigration barracks on the north slope of the cove, the small, drafty, wooden building represents the "Ellis Island of the West."
Originally built to process an anticipated flood of European immigrants entering the United States through the newly opened Panama Canal, the Immigration Station on Angel Island opened on January 21, 1910, on the eve of World War I and the closing of America's 'open door' to stem the tide of these immigrants from Europe.
The facility instead served as a detention center for the majority of the approximately 175,000 Chinese immigrants who came to America between 1910 and 1940, seeking escape from the economic and political hardships of their homeland.
What these newcomers found when they reached America was discrimination and a series of restrictive anti-Asian laws, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Although all Asians were affected, 97 percent of those detained on Angel Island were Chinese.
After the earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed records that verified citizenship, many Chinese residents of California were able to claim citizenship for themselves and dozens of "paper children." Immigration officials responded to the deception by detaining all working-class Chinese immigrants for interrogation.
The Chinese immigrants were held on the island for weeks, months, even years while awaiting hearings or appeals on their applications. In contrast, immigrants passing through Ellis Island were processed within hours or days and merely had to pass medical hurdles.
To vent their frustrations at their forced idleness and isolation--authorities separated family members to prevent exchange of coaching information--detainees wrote poems expressing their anger, despair, homesickness and loneliness.
The poetry, written and intricately carved on the walls in the classical style of the Tang dynasty, was recorded by two detainees in the early 1930s and rediscovered in 1970.
Angel Island is accessible by ferry from:
San Francisco,call 415-773-1188
Tiburon, call 415-435-2131
Vallejo, call 707-643-6779
Alameda/Oakland, call 510-522-3300.
Address / Phone
For information on Angel Island Tram Tours, call 925-426-3058.