“The Finest Immigration Station in the World” – Angel Island

Fascinating history of Angel Island Immigration Station, the west coast equivalent of Ellis Island, but with the important differences noted in this excerpt:

A common shorthand for the Angel Island Immigration Station is “the Ellis Island of the West,” but this false equivalency downplays Angel Island’s brutality. Ellis Island detained twenty percent and deported two percent of its largely European population. Angel Island detained over half and deported one in five of its largely Asian population. An Ellis Island of the West did in fact exist on Angel Island, it was just found on the other side of a wall, upstairs or downstairs, or on the opposite side of a dining room; manifested in differences at the level of a tablecloth, silverware, shower water, or the interrogation table.

The imbalance between the two sites continues into the present. Though Angel Island prominently displays a plaque noting the “Sister Park” status of Ellis Island, the plaque’s language makes clear that Ellis Island is a national park while Angel Island is only a state park. A dedicated ferry takes tourists to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty; visitors to Angel Island board a ferry mostly used by passengers seeking recreation, and the private company that operates the only route submitted a petition to suspend all service in December 2020.33

Nonetheless, the preservation and dissemination of Angel Island’s legacy provides an opportunity for what Viet Thanh Nguyen has termed “just memory” when he writes that “any project of the humanities … should also be a project of the inhumanities, how civilizations are built on forgotten barbarism toward others.”

Demonstrating this potential, in 2003 Angel Island’s travelling exhibition Gateway to Gold Mountain opened at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum with a lion dance performed by students from the Chinese Community Center of New Jersey. In doing so, it argued for inclusion of those historically excluded from the wider narrative of American immigration. Local papers described Asian American visitors seeing their own stories in the museum for the first time.

Speaking to the press, Ellis Island’s curator of exhibits and media maintained that the exhibition “enables us to tell the larger story.”

As an antidote to the mythologies of Ellis Island and American immigration, the preservation and dissemination of Angel Island demonstrates that architectures of exclusion existed on both shores and were unequally applied along lines of race and class, with disease labeled as the culprit.

Source: “The Finest Immigration Station in the World” – Architecture

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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