America was truly the “land of opportunity” at one point in time for many. People from all over the world came by boat or whatever method that they could to come to the place that had promised people a chance at a new life. With the influx of immigration that came before 1900, many American citizens were growing concerned about their own job security. Many had feared that their jobs were a threat because of the incoming immigrants that were searching for jobs and were willing to get paid at a cheaper price. The U.S. Senate intervened by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act was signed in 1882 with the resolve to bar anymore Chinese from coming into the country.
With the signing of this bill, the federal government had made it extremely difficult for Chinese immigrants to enter the United States. Many were interrogated so that the government could find reason to deport them back to their own country. Medical examinations were given to make sure that all incoming people were free of any suspicious and actual known sicknesses. While immigrants were waiting for months to wait for their paperwork, they had to wait in barracks that were like the condition of living in a prison. Food was scarce and bars were put on windows. There was no telling how long one had to wait. However, despite all this, immigrants were still willing to go through all this for a chance on whatever was on the other side.
Poetry can be found on the walls of these barracks and some have been preserved today. These show the despair of these immigrants and all the frustrations that they had towards their situations. These are now considered as the voices of these past immigrants that struggled to get a taste of the freedom that they so longed for.
The will of the Chinese and the many other ethnic groups that came and went through Angel Island through the years of 1910-1940 were resiliently strong and proved that even these restrictions still could not keep these immigrants from coming into the country and getting the jobs that they not only wanted but desperately needed. These stories have not been told by many textbooks and social studies curriculum today. The mention of immigration is very small and the most commonly mentioned immigration station is Ellis Island in New York. This portrayal of immigration teaches students that immigration has only been prominent or important in early American history when the huge influx of European immigrants came into America. Mention of Angel Island and other immigration stations is important to show students that immigration has continued on past the seventeenth century and has been a crucial part of the formation of the fabric that makes America today.
As you discover Angel Island through the documents shown on this website, consider the following questions:
What did it feel like to be an immigrant during this time?
What situations were immigrants go through in Angel Island?
Teacher resources that consist of a website that has an audio tour of the Angel Island immigrants and a handout on three separate poems that also come with questions that helps students delve deeper into the voices of Angel Island.