Project Description

Angel Island, US: ‘Ellis Island of the West’


If you are a second or third generation American-born-Chinese, your (grand)parents will probably have been forced to spend some time in the wooden buildings of the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Chinese detainees in the detention barrack on Angel Island. (Provided by Angel Island, Arcadia Publishing)

Between 1910 and 1940, all 175,000 Chinese wanting to enter the US were detained and interrogated, and then either approved or denied access at Angel Island, located in San Francisco Bay. As you could only enter the US if you already had direct family living there, the countless interrogations about where you were from, who your family was, what each of them did, were grueling. Language and translation mistakes further added to the torment. One immigrant recounted: “When we arrived, they locked us up like criminals in compartments like the cages at the zoo.”

If you were lucky, the immigration process would take two weeks. If you weren’t, it could take several months or even several years. More than half of the applicants were denied entrance and had no choice but to turn around. New life was separated from despair by the drop of a border guard’s stamp.

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