Participant Accounts

Lester Tom Lee

“We ate vegetables twice a day and some very rough rice, very hard to swallow. I was a growing boy and hungry.

There were birds outside the wire fence. My hands were small enough I could grab their necks and kill them. We used rice to attract the birds to us. We cleaned the birds in a toilet. Another boy had gotten some matches, somehow. Someone else had a knife. We gathered branches and we got newspaper and rolled it like wood to make a fire. We barbecued birds that way, when the guards weren’t around. It was the only tasty thing we could get.

The main reason I was detained so long was that my father and I gave the inspectors different dates about when I departed China. The Chinese lunar calendar is about a month off from the American calendar! Ay! So my father hired a lawyer to get me out. Sometimes I cried because I missed my family and my friends.

Two men killed themselves, hung themselves. I went to the bathroom one morning and they were there. Maybe it was with a bedsheet. I screamed. I ran back to the barrack. They were probably about to be deported. I think one was about 30 years old, the other one 40.

Sometimes I wondered why we all came over here for that kind of treatment. Sometimes I just wanted to go home because they treated us like criminals. We were only immigrants.”

1. How long did Lester and his dad was detained in Angel Island?
2. Why were Lester and his dad being detained?
3. Where were Lester and his dad living in?
4. What difficulties did Lester face in getting his own food?
5. What was the feelings that Lester had while in the barracks?
6. Do you agree with Lester that he was being treated as a criminal? Does the conditions of the barracks seem like a prison?
7. How desperate were some of the immigrants in the barracks?

Li Keng Wong

“Women and men were segregated in Angel Island, and while we were there, we were locked up in the women’s barracks. The barracks had barred doors and windows. Guards wearing green uniforms stood outside and constantly watched us. Our barrack had a handful of women who came before us and were still waiting to learn their fate — would they make it into the United States or return home in shame?

Each day, we sat and waited to be called for our immigration interview. The waiting was nerve-wracking. There wasn’t anything to keep us occupied. We had no books to read and no toys to play with. We didn’t study the coaching papers while being detained because we had memorized the questions and answers back in our village.

Each day, we were escorted to the dining area, where we ate Chinese food. We ate rice, meat, and vegetables. We also ate bread and fruit. The food was good and was supplemented by the government.

But we were not treated kindly. The officials seldom smiled or acknowledged us. I hated the detention and I was worried that we could be deported, but I did not have to worry for long.”

1. What were the immigrants worried about the most?
2. What was the two possible outcomes for the immigrants?
3. Where were most of these immigrants coming from?
3. How did Li prepare for her interview?
4. According to Li, was the immigrants being treated right?
5. Why were most of the immigrants worried and stressed?

Xie Chuang

“Angel Island – what a beautiful name! Yet in the period before the 1930s, in the minds of overseas Chinese in America it was a terrifying place. This island is situated in San Francisco Bay about five nautical miles from San Francisco, and covers an area of ten square kilometers. There are no residents on the island, only navy camps. Transportation to and from the island is concentrated mostly on a single pier. The U.S. immigration station for the West Coast was established on a hillside there. All new immigrants who arrive on the west coast–especially those from the Far East–must come to the station for interrogation and medical examination. Only when the authorities are convinced that travel documents have not been forged will immigrants be allowed to enter the country. As for those foreign nationals awaiting deportation, they are also detained here.

This immigration processing station is in fact a detention center–there’s not much difference between it and a jail. While at the station, Asians (Japanese, Filipinos) and Chinese are kept in separate dormitories. In those years because China was weak and its people poor, the treatment Chinese received at the station was worse than that of the Japanese and Filipino immigrants. As for the time required for processing, Japanese immigrants could leave the station and enter the country within twenty-four hours of their arrival; as for Filipinos, it could take from two weeks to a little more than a month. For Chinese, the quickest was more than a month, and there were those who still did not receive permission to land after periods as long as two years. This is obviously due to China’s weak status as a nation, which has resulted in discrimination against its people. The Chinese were also given worse food and lodging space than the Japanese and Filipinos.”

1. How did the Chinese see America?
2. Where is Angel Island? What is its main purpose?
3. What were the obstacles that immigrants had to overcome to get into America?
4. Why were the living conditions in the immigration processing station so bad?