Infamous Angel Island—the Ellis Island of America’s West Coast

There is a poem on the Statue of Liberty that ends with “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Angel Island in San Francisco Bay was America’s west coast Ellis Island, but those famous last lines on the Statue of Liberty Poem did not apply to the Chinese and other Asians.

From 1919 to 1940, mostly Asian immigrants entered the US through Angel Island.

After 1940, the immigration station on Angel Island was forgotten until a California Park Ranger, Alexander Weiss, discovered the stories carved in the walls.

He thought that there were stories here as if there were ghosts waiting to be heard.

Over half of the Angel Island immigrants came from China and Japan and most of the carvings on the walls were poems written in Chinese.

A former detainee, Dale Ching, went through the station in 1937 when he was sixteen.  Even though Dale’s father was born in the United States, he still had to go through the immigration station.

While the East Coast’s Ellis Island welcomed immigrants, Angel Island’s story was one of sadness and suffering.

Most European immigrants who went through Ellis Island stayed a few hours, but immigrants on Angel Island were kept locked up under armed guard with barbed-wire fences surrounding the buildings and some people stayed for days, weeks, months and years.

The park service wanted to tear the Angel Island buildings down but Weiss found supporters and they struggled to preserve this history.  They succeeded and the restoration project was challenging.

Alexander Weiss sums up the video saying we should know both the right and the wrong from U.S. history.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


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4 Responses to Infamous Angel Island—the Ellis Island of America’s West Coast

  1. teddyrose1 says:

    Thank you so much for this. My grandparents all came to the U.S. from Russia and landed in Ellis Island. They didn’t talk about their life in Russia but they all commented on what it was like to see the Statue of Liberty upon arriving.

    Next time I am in San Francisco, I would love to go to Angel Island.

  2. The original reason for immigration in the United States is perhaps to stock the land with enough warm bodies as a strategy to push the Indians out of their lands rather than just battle with them. The immigrants through the Angels island were of course not the right kind of bodies originally intended and hence different treatments. This old news of Abraham Lincoln meeting the Indian chiefs in the White House is rather telling.

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