An Immigrant's Journey

Follow in the footsteps of Angel Island immigrants to uncover what it was like to arrive in San Francisco between 1910 and 1940.

By Angel Island Immigration Station

Angel Island Immigration Station

Angel Island Wharf at China Cove (1910) by Department of Justice. Immigration and Naturalization Service. 6/14/1940-3/1/2003Angel Island Immigration Station

Guardian of the Western Gate

In the early 20th century, immigrants seeking entry to the United States were confronted with immigration policies that treated them differently based on their race, nationality, gender, and class as a way of identifying which ones were fit to enter the country and become Americans and which ones were not.

U.S. Public Health Service Personnel Inspecting Asian Men Aboard a Ship (1924-02) by Department of the Treasury. Public Health Service. 1912-7/1/1939Angel Island Immigration Station

Two-thirds of immigrants arriving in San Francisco between 1910 and 1940 came aboard steamer ships from either China or Japan.

Examining Passengers Aboard the Shinyo Maru (1931) by Department of the Treasury. Public Health Service. 1912-7/1/1939Angel Island Immigration Station

Upon arriving in San Francisco, passengers would be separated by nationality. Asians, and other immigrants who needed to be quarantined for health reasons, would be ferried to Angel Island.

European and Asian Immigrants Arriving on Angel Island (ca. 1925) by Edward H. Kemp, Lantern Slides, 833 Market Street, San Francisco, Calif. 14.Angel Island Immigration Station

Once on Angel Island, passengers walked to the Administration Building for registration and assignment to their quarters.

Chinese Women Being Held in Detention on Angel Island (1910s) by Library of CongressAngel Island Immigration Station

From then on, racial and gender segregation policies were strictly enforced. It kept whites and Asians, Chinese and Japanese, men and women separate from each other.

Medical Examination of Immigrant Children (1923) by Department of the Treasury. Public Health Service. 1912-7/1/1930Angel Island Immigration Station

All newcomers were subjected to a line inspection and exam to detect the presence of contagious diseases and other medical defects that would require treatment or deportation.

Interrogation of a Chinese immigrant (1923) by Department of the Treasury. Public Health Service, 1912-7/1/1939Angel Island Immigration Station

Following the medical exam, immigrants had a hearing before the Board of Special Inquiry. It consisted of two inspectors, a stenographer, and interpreters whenever necessary.

German Officers Inside One of the Dormitories (1918-09-15) by War Department. 1789-9/18/1947Angel Island Immigration Station

Because of the time-consuming interrogation process, immigrants were detained in quarters that were deemed "overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe" by government inspectors.

Asian Men Playing Ball in the Recreation Yard (1920s)Angel Island Immigration Station

Men were confined in the barracks at all times except for meals and two exercise periods in the yard. To prevent collusion, Chinese immigrants were not allowed visitors until their cases were settled.

Katharine Maurer with Immigrants (ca. 1929) by Katharine R. Maurer Collection, 1913-1977. Box 243, folder no. 23Angel Island Immigration Station

Women and children under 12 were held in the Administration building. They were offered space on the roof for fresh air and given the ability to walk the Immigration Station grounds for exercise.

Immigration Official and Asian Boys Outside the Immigration Station Hospital (1923) by Department of the Treasury. Public Health Service. 1912-7/1/1939Angel Island Immigration Station

Immigrants reacted to their detention on Angel Island in different ways. Detainees from China formed the Angel Island Liberty Association to protest unfair treatment.

Immigrant Poem "Random Thoughts While Staying in the Building" (1973)Angel Island Immigration Station

While they awaited decisions on their cases, they also carved poetry into the barracks walls as a way to express their anger and frustration. Over 200 of these poems still exist at the site today.

European Men Standing in Front of a Fence (ca. 1925)Angel Island Immigration Station

Detainees resented being confined behind barbed wire fences, locked doors, and being separated from their families.

Chinese Immigrants with the Immigration Commissioner (1934)Angel Island Immigration Station

Chinese Immigrants

Chinese immigrants had the hardest time on Angel Island. Officials suspected that they were coming with fake identities and papers which led to the longest interrogations and detention of any group.

Affidavit of Identity and Relationship for Look Tai You and Look Get (1918-09-30) by Department of Justice. Immigration and Naturalization Service. 6/14/1940-3/1/2003Angel Island Immigration Station

Ten year old Tyrus Wong left China in 1920 under the paper-name "Look Ti Yow," and was detained on Angel Island. He is best known for for his work on Walt Disney's Bambi, where he created the movie’s visual style.

Japanese Picture Brides in the Registry Room (1916-11) by Lantern Slide and Lecture Department of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 150 Fifth Avenue, New York CityAngel Island Immigration Station

Japanese Immigrants

Japanese immigrants had the shortest stay and the lowest rate of deportation among all the immigrant groups because Japan was a rising imperial power that had the diplomatic respect of the U.S.

Kane Mineta and husband (1914)Angel Island Immigration Station

In 1914, Kane Watanabe arrived from Japan to meet her husband for the first time. Kane was one of 10,000 picture brides who came to U.S. for marriage. Her son, Norman Mineta, became the first Asian American to hold a post in a presidential cabinet.

South Asian Immigrant Men (ca. 1925) by Edward H. Kemp, Lantern Slides, 833 Market Street, San Francisco, Calif.Angel Island Immigration Station

South Asian Immigrants

Immigrants from India had the hardest time getting admitted into the country. Sikhs and single men from the Punjab districts had left their homes to escape British colonialism and poverty.

Dalip Samra (1932)Angel Island Immigration Station

At age 14, Dalip Samra (right) made his way from India to Hong Kong to Hawaii, and finally to Angel Island in November of 1910. He became a migrant worker in Sacramento.

Deaconess Maurer with European Immigrants (ca. 1910s - 1920s)Angel Island Immigration Station

European Immigrants

Caucasian immigrants had an easier time in detention than Asian immigrants. Russians and Jews from Europe journeyed east across Siberia, China, Japan, and the Pacific to reach America.

Passport for Rosa Ginsberg (1939)Angel Island Immigration Station

Jeffrey Klein speaks about his mother Rose Klein, an Austrian immigrant

Rose Ginsberg was 16 years old when Austria was annexed by Germany. She fled Austria in 1940 and left Asia out of Shanghai. Rose arrived at Angel Island on March 7 with just $2.50 in her pocket.

Eliseo Felipe and family (1951)Angel Island Immigration Station

Filipino Immigrants

When the Immigration Station opened, Filipinos born abroad were considered U.S. nationals but not citizens. After the Philippines received independence in 1934, it reclassified all Filipinos as “aliens," making them subject to the same interrogations and detentions on Angel Island that applied to other Asian immigrants.

Eliseo Felipe immigration photo (1940)Angel Island Immigration Station

In 1933, when the Philippines was under U.S. colonial rule, Eliseo Felipe's entry into the U.S. was unaffected by laws that barred other Asians. But after the Philippines became independent, he was taken to Angel Island where he was interrogated and detained for two days.

View from Above the U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island (ca. 1930)Angel Island Immigration Station

Approximately 500,000 immigrants from 80 different countries were processed, detained, and interrogated on Angel Island during its operation.

Immigrant Landing - San Francisco, California Postcard (ca. 1904 - 1918) by E.F. Mueller Postcard CollectionAngel Island Immigration Station

Thousands of immigrants went on to strive for the opportunity and freedom the American dream represented. Like those who left Ellis Island, they went on to build this nation of immigrants.

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