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Angel Island--from a 1917 Book

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We are all familiar with Ellis Island on the Atlantic coast, but many do not know of the existence of Angel Island on the Pacific coast where the incoming orientals are received.

It was a note of the early Christian that he was "given to hospitality." The spirit of the Master teaches us to share with others. Why should not this attitude characterize our national relations with the incomers who cross the seas to sojourn in our land?

Unrestricted and unregulated immigration would not be wise either on our eastern or western coasts. We need the most careful consideration of the character of our future citizenship. But when we have decided who may be admitted to our land, let us receive all who come with a true Christian courtesy. It is not wholly a matter of legislation and officialism. The observant writer of this little story indicates clearly the significance of what should be done to give our new guests a kindly welcome. The Golden Gate and Angel Island should be worthy of their beautiful names. Here is an important task for the Christian women of our Home Mission Societies.

We can always be sure that every bad influence will meet the stranger. All the tribe that seeks to exploit the new-arrival confused in his unfamiliar surroundings, will be alert, and in spite of all the care which the government can exercise, the immigrant will not seldom be cheated and mislead. Strangely enough the Christian forces may give no heed to him. Too busy about our own affairs we may not realize that these are folk coming from old Asia, whence our Savior came, who are getting their first impression of a Christian land. They are sure to see our evil side, we must not fail to let them see our purity, faith, patriotism and Christian love.

Foreign missions come over to us at Angel Island. Those folk from the east will learn our tongue. They will also share our faith if we give them a chance. How touching to read the story of their gratitude for a copy of the gospel! What a rebuke to us is the tale of unneighborliness! How our hearts thrill when we read of the Chinese Boys' Band and the stirring notes of "America" which they played so well.

"Sweet land of liberty." America has ever been a Promised Land. There ought not to be one soul in all our broad country who does not show the loyalty that makes a nation strong. Patriotism is only at its best when it is Christian.

It is our Home Missionary task to help the strangers within our gates to become Christian patriots.

Lillian M. Soares
May, 1917.

Chapter I: Angel Island

map.jpg (11575 bytes)When a vessel bearing immigrants to California sails into San Francisco Bay, through the Golden Gate, anchorage is made at Meiggs' wharf, the vessel signals by whistling, and the immigration officials go aboard. The vessel proceeds to its dock in San Francisco, where first-cabin passengers land, but all others are sent to Angel Island, which corresponds to Ellis Island on the Eastern Coast.

To visit Angel Island, we must first obtain a pass from the Commissioner of Immigration. On visiting day, Tuesday or Friday, we go to Pier no. 7, San Francisco, to take the Angel Island Immigration Service boat, which makes several trips a day. We wait, toward the end of the long covered shed, for the coming boat. The cry of the sea-gulls is in the air, bells or whistles sound from different vessels, Chinese and Japanese wander about.

The Immaculate white boat for Angel Island comes alongside with its American, Japanese, and Chinese passengers. As they are discharged, the other Americans, Japanese and Chinese, who have been waiting, pass up the gangway and start on their Journey.

The Location - If we go outside, on the narrow passage-way running around the cabin, the fresh salt wind smites our faces as we look toward the Golden Gate. Between us and the Gate rises Alcatraz, the island whose cannon guard the entrance to the Bay. The buildings on Alcatraz give the island somewhat the shape of a man-of-war. For many years it has been used as a military prison.

Angel Island is a much better place to keep immigrants than the old detention-sheds in San Francisco were, as opportunities for coaching witnesses in fraudulent cases are now prevented by island isolation. Angel Island was first opened as an Immigrant Station in October, 1909. The next report of the Commissioner General of Immigration stated that the Angel Island Station had been built largely because the Chinese and their friends and attorneys had persistently complained that the conditions under which Chinese were detained in San Francisco were unsafe and unsanitary. But when these complainants discovered that the United States Government would have a great advantage in preventing the coaching of applicants and witnesses by occupying the Station at Angel Island, there arose violent protests, which, however, did not prevent the Government from carrying out its plan.

Angel Island is seven miles in circumference, and has an altitude of nine hundred feet. On the south side of the island, the buildings and the khaki-colored tents that we see, do not mark the Immigration Station portion of the island, but comprise what is sometimes called the "Casual Camp," where soldiers from the Philippines are lodged. On the west of the island, out of sight of our boat, is Fort McDowell, the military station. On the north side of the island is the quarantine station.

admin.jpg (27209 bytes)The Buildings - Our boat passes a little further and turns by a wooded bluff. We swing alongside a wharf. Connected with the wharf by a broad wooden walk, is the main building of the eighteen buildings on this section of the island devoted to the United States Immigration Service. Ten acres of the island are fenced in for this purpose. We pass up the walk to the Administration Building and at the door we show our pass to the old doorkeeper. While we wait here for our guides, we notice that this large room in which we stand is railed off into sections.

The Japanese - The Japanese girls with the Japanese young men in one section are "picture-brides," with their prospective bridegrooms and friends. Of the "picture-brides" I shall treat more fully in a later chapter.

Our guide leads us from the main room of the Administration Building into a long curving passageway, wade secure by wire netting on the side opening outdoors, and we are ushered into the large dining-room for immigrants. Long, clean rows of tables stretch parallel to one another across the room.

detention.jpg (28148 bytes)The Chinese Detention Building - Sometimes one may find here a group of little Chinese boys, eating with chopsticks. High above the first table is a notice in Chinese, warning the Chinese not to make trouble, nor to spill food on the floor. Off this dining-room, we pass into the fine kitchen that has cost many hundreds of dollars. Everything is cooked by steam-heat. Two shining copper boilers are for the ever-necessary tea of which the Oriental is so fond. The cooks are Chinese.

Passing back through the dining-room, we climb the long, broad stairway that leads up to the two-story Chinese Detention Building for the men. Sometimes there are two or three hundred men and boys up here. Some are mere boys of twelve or so, the sons of San Francisco Chinese merchants, or the alleged "sons," whose real status it is the perplexing task of the United States Government to determine. When we were in the main room of the Administration Building, we noticed that a railed-off section held a number of Chinese. They were witnesses, come to testify in some of the Chinese cases that are decided here.

Inside the Chinese Detention Building, near the door, are two electric switches. In case of a fore, pulling down one of these switches would cause a fire-escape ladder to slide from the upper story of the building to the ground. The other switch would alarm the people in the other buildings.

The young Chinese coming forward to see us are friendly. Our visit is a break in their day. Following our guide we pass small rooms till we enter a large room in which are about a hundred Chinese, most of them ranging in age from ten to twenty. Some of them are playing dominoes near the door. Rows of two tiers of sanitary wire beds run lengthwise through the room. Some of the Chinese boys are lying on the beds, reading, others are looking over their possessions. When the inmates realize that the visitor is giving away Gospels in Chinese, a small mob sometimes closes around her, a good-natured mob, of course, and the yellow hands are thrust out for the Gospels faster than she can get them out of her bag.

Some of the immigrants are being treated at the white hospital on the bluff opposite the Detention Building.

The Deportation of Chinese Women - An immigrant examination involves of necessity the deportation of those who are adjudged unfit to enter the country. It is a sad sight to see the poor creatures who have come so far turned back at the very door. I will remember one very unhappy occasion. I had brought a party of women with me to see the island, and had secured the unusual privilege of admission to the rooms where the Chinese women are detained.

As we approached these rooms we heard the strange confused sound of many voices. Ceaseless, opposing, it was the wailing protest of the Chinese women against the deportation of three of their compatriots. Presently the three women passed us on their way to the boat which was to take them to the Mongolia sailing that day for the Orient. Poor souls! They looked as though they had cried their hearts out.

Usually deportation means that the Chinese women are taken to Hong Kong, where they fall almost immediately into the hands of slave-dealers, who take them back to the old dreadful life. The Methodist deaconess formerly at Angel Island vainly tried to learn of some one at Hongkong who would undertake to look after the Chinese women deported from the United States and protect them from their former masters. If California is to be kept clean in some measure, such poor slave women must probably be deported, but could not two such great nations as the United States, which sends the women back, and England, ruling at Hongkong, make some arrangement whereby the slave-dealers at the port would be prevented from capturing these women?

The United States has a plan under consideration concerning women and girls of European countries depaorte from this country. At the Quinquennialmeeting of the International Council of Women, held at Rome, Italy, in May, 1914, Mrs. Kate Waller Barrett, special agent of the United States Immigration Service, endeavored to secure the endorsement and assistance of the international Council of Women toward the establishment in each country of groups of representative persons who would correspond directly with the United States Government and would assume the care and protection of deported girls or women from their respective countries, until such time as these girls or women were "capable of self-direction." Would that some such plan might be carried out for the deported Chinese women reaching Hongkong!

The Indians - Our guide takes us to the other side of the building to show us the Hindus. Here they come! Fine-looking, stalwart fellows, with white turbans swathing their heads, they come up the long stairway and confront us. Other Indians are in the farther room. How different this type of men from the Chinese or Japanese whom we have been seeing! Some authorities hold that the Hindu and the American both belong to the Aryan race, and that whether we like it or not, these Hindus are bone of our bone. Our speech betrayeth us, according to the philologists. One looks back through the ages, and sees the time when the Aryan forefathers of these Hindus, and our own forefathers, parted in central Asia, the Hindu forefathers going south, and in a subsequent emigration, our forefathers going west. The Hindu is not a Mongolian, but our long-lost brother, and the Californian is not usually any more glad to see him coming than the respectable brother was to see the prodigal son in the parable. I recall seeing a small group of indians beside the entrance to the Pacific mail Steamship Company's pier in San Francisco, before the sailing of a steamer, and hearing a white man adjure the harmless group, who were not obstructing anything I could see, "You move on! You fellows can't stand there talking!"

Those Indians were not devoid of human instinct when treated kindly, for when I gave a copy of the Gospel of John written, in the strange oval and horizontal Punjabi characters, to one of the Hindu of the group, he drew a nickel from his pocket as if to pay me, and on my refusal, he uttered an "Ah-h!" of protest. Another time, after I had given a group of four Indians some Gospels in Punjabi, one of them who wore a red turban came after me and held out his sallow hand in which was a little change, as if he would have paid me. When I refused the money he thanked me.

The kindly hearted American who pleasantly says, "Salaam," in greeting an Indian, hears "Salaam," in return. A missionary from India, while visiting the camps of Indians in northern California, was gladly received when it was discovered that he could speak Hindustani. Once on his way to an Indian camp, the same missionary saw a workman in a field and called to him in his own tongue. The man came running and was full of joy at being spoken to in his native language. His employer called him, but he enthusiastically shouted back, "I can't work now! My brother has come! My brother has come!"

A San Francisco employee of the American Bible Society told me of a friend who had carried gospels to an outgoing steamer, and an Indian was so glad to receive a gospel in his native tongue that he kissed the book. A colporteur is said to have found five Indian laborers at prayer one evening in their hut. Not a word of English could any of them speak, but they were reading from a bible that a missionary had given to one of them in India, and which he had brought with him to America.

The Koreans - Another and very interesting oriental race to be found in California, although in small numbers, is the Korean. As very few of them are now coming to this country, I have never seen them at Angel Island. I have often met them, however, in my work, and shall give a description of them in a subsequent chapter.

For more from Bamford's book, visit this site by Lou Alfano: http://

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