Angel Island

Which island on the west coast of the United States was also known as the "Ellis Island of the West" due to the large number of immigrants admitted through it?

And the answer: Angel Island.      

Photo credit: National Archives. 

From 1910 to 1940, approximately 500,000 immigrants from 80 countries were processed through Angel Island, located in San Francisco. A majority of the immigrants came from China, Japan, and other Asian and Pacific Island countries.

After the land was ceded by Mexico to the United States in 1848, Angel Island became a military base. Not long after, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, which marked the first time in United States history that a specific group was barred from entry to the country. Yet, it was just the beginning.

In the decades that followed, several other immigration laws were enacted, which collectively prohibited immigration from most countries in Asia and the Pacific. In 1910, the immigration station at Angel Island was built to enforce these policies. Medical checks, gender and race segregation, and other inhumane practices were inflicted on the immigrants who processed through Angel Island.

Race, nationality, class and gender often determined the length of an immigrants stay on Angel Island, which could range from 2 days to 2 years. While European immigrants were treated to better accommodations and better food, many Asian immigrants were crowded into barracks that even immigration inspectors deemed unsafe and unsanitary.

In 1940, these conditions took the ultimate toll when the administrative building burned down. This destruction marks the last time that the location served as an immigration processing facility. The buildings were slated for demolition in 1970, until California park ranger Alexander Weiss took a group of local professors to read the inscriptions made by Chinese immigrants in the processing space. This inspired the formation of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, which continues to honor the legacy of the immigrants who passed through Angel Island.

Learn more about Angel Island below.


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