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Curator Seeking Angel Island Immigration Papers

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Curator Seeking Angel Island Immigration Papers

Posted: 1176029493000
Classification: Immigration
The following is a news article regarding the curator of Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay Area seeking official immigration documents to be exhibited. Chinese immigrant hopefuls were detained there from 1910-1940.........

Park asks for documents detailing Angel Island's hostile welcome
By Jessie Mangaliman
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:04/05/2007 01:36:01 AM PDT

The curators of Angel Island Station are asking for public help in finding genuine government documents called certificates of identity - a precursor of the American green card, or permanent resident card - that were issued to Chinese immigrants who were detained on Angel Island from 1910 to 1940.

The dollar-bill sized certificates - some of them handwritten, stamped and with a photograph - will be photo-engraved on a granite table that will be the main feature of a permanent exhibit, "The Interrogation Table," where all immigrants were questioned upon arrival.

Located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Angel Island, the "Ellis Island of the West," was the first stop for immigrants coming from Asia across the Pacific. But unlike its Eastern seaboard counterpart, Angel Island was a detention center patrolled by armed guards, a place where the government enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that strictly limited the number of Chinese immigrants entering the United States. A million immigrants from China, Japan, Russia, India, Mexico and New Zealand came through Angel Island.

The building where the Interrogation Table used to be no longer exists, but in its footprint, a 4-by-8-foot table will be placed to illustrate for visitors the hostile welcome that immigrants from Asia received upon arriving in San Francisco.

"They were asked all sorts of questions: `Why are you coming?' `How long are you going to be here?' " said Erika Gee, education director at Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. "They were looking to exclude people, in particular the Chinese."

Faded memories

Hop Jeong, a retired accountant from San Lorenzo, was 10 when he arrived at Angel Island in 1940, alone, to join his grandfather and a younger brother who arrived two months earlier from Canton.

He does not remember the interrogation. But 10 years ago, wanting to pass on personal history to his children and grandchildren, Jeong obtained records of his arrival - and his interrogation - from the U.S. National Archives in San Bruno. There were four pages of questions.

"They asked me very silly questions," he said. "How many windows did we have in our house? Where did everybody sleep? Where is the market? How do you get there?"

Jeong was detained two months at Angel Island, but he has little memory of his time. According to historical record and the personal accounts of detainees, it was an unwelcoming place where immigrants were housed in cold, crowded, prison-like barracks.

"What I do remember is looking at the lights on land across the water," he said. "I thought, `That's where I'm going.'"

Last spring, Jeong took his grandchildren to the island, now a state park. Learning about the armed guards who kept watch of the detained immigrants on the island, his grandchildren remarked, "Like a prison," Jeong said.

Jeong's certificate of identity will be part of the exhibit.

Barry Wong, a 45-year-old San Francisco firefighter, grew up knowing nothing about his family's journey from China and their time on Angel Island.

"A lot of things dealing with my family history were repressed," Wong said. "They really just tried to fit in."

But Wong has since learned that his fraternal grandfather was one of the lucky few: He had been conferred citizenship status. He returned to China in 1924 to fetch his wife, and his son, Wong's father. They spent a few days on Angel Island, and were issued the certificates of identity.

"There were always questions in my mind about how they migrated," Wong said. "After my father passed away, I found all these documents and I started thinking, gee, how can I share this history?"

Building up exhibit

Wong has given a copy of his father's certificate of identity to Angel Island, as part of the "Interrogation Table" exhibit.

Gee is looking for at least 30 certificates to scan. Transcripts of the interrogation will also be engraved on the table. On one side, there will be two granite chairs, to represent the inspector and interpreter. There will be another chair on the other side of the table, to represent the arriving immigrant.

The station is closed for renovation. Restoration of the remaining buildings on the island has been under way since 2004. Gee said the construction of exhibits is part of a larger project to tell the story of the island and the story of immigrants who were detained there. The station is expected to open in January 2008.

"We want to convey to visitors what happened to immigrants at the station," she said, "and this is a good point to begin that story."


Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation is seeking certificates of identities of Chinese immigrants who came through Angel Island, as well as documents brought by other immigrants. For more information, call AIISF at (415) 561-2160, e-mail, or visit the Web site

Contact Jessie Mangaliman at jmangaliman@mercurynews .com or (408) 920-5794.

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