An island far away from society always feels innocent and sound. When we add the word Angel in front of Island, we have made an exceptional name for the perfect Utopian world. By first hearing the name of the place “Angel Island”, the words taste heavenly and we assume its history is going to be upright. Located in the San Francisco bay, near Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island is the largest natural island in the bay (Britannica, 2019). Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala called the Island “Isla de Los Angeles” because he discovered it on the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of the Angels, which in Spanish means “Island of the Angels”. The Lady of the Angels day is celebrated in Costa Rica where people get out on the street dancing and singing traditional songs. People suffering from any kind of problem ask the virgin for help, and she releases them from their sorrows (aglobalworld). An Island near the bay, a cheerful festival, happy people released from their sorrows, no excessive technology, no slaves, sounds familiar doesn’t it? The city of Omelas is another analogy of it. Angel Island has a misleading Utopian name that covers the tragic dystopian history of immigrants being detained when coming to America. For American people to protect their jobs, and live in the Utopian country that everyone thought America was, Immigrants had to be locked down in the Island. It is quite similar to the child who was locked down in the city of Omelas so everyone else could be happy.
The “Festival of Summer’’ comes to Omelas, which is located “on her bay”, where people do not “use swords or keep slaves” and other “people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas” too (The ones who run away from Omelas, p.2). All is good and righteous and people are not simple “bland utopians”. As the city of Omelas takes a dark turn, suddenly we also find ourselves searching up the history behind the Angel Island. Those who made it by boat to Angel Island did not feel protected by angels at all upon their arrival. In the Omelas “joy built upon successful slaughter is not the kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial” and its people’s hearts were swelled by “magnanimous triumphs felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere”. Angel Island did not seem to follow these rules.
By the 1900s, America established itself as a world power. Oil seemed limitless as new wells had been drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. By that time the US became the largest steel producer in the world, telephones were being widely used and cities were growing. In California they were a lot of jobs being born because of the Gold Rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad. (America at the Turn of the Century: A Look at the Historical Context). The US sounded like the happy place any person would like to live in. That’s why immigrants started to come. The Island served as a successful hunting ground for the Miwok people (Native Americans), and a hiding place for the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala. After California became a state, the island was claimed by the United States Navy. In the year 1981 Angels Island became the home of sick immigrants to prevent them from bringing the diseases to San Francisco, after a quarantine station was built. The Island was also a WW2 Japanese internment camp, a cold missile site, an immigration and quarantine station. As America was blooming and becoming a world power, it came with the cost of mistreated immigrants.
The immigrants were running from their Dystopian countries in the pursue of the Utopic world which they thought was America. Russian citizen caught in the turmoil of advancing armies of the eastern front war made their way to West Coast. Jewish Russian men, and later their families, constituted a large share of the non- Asians arriving at Angel Island fleeing the Nazi rule. Later came the Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Mexicans, Germans and Austro-Hungarians running from the war. Most in numbers were Chinese, Japanese and Indians whom, as ethnic groups of any size, were kept together. During this period the latter would meet with a reception not quite similar to that giver to European immigrants. The reasons lay way back in the past. 50 years beforehand, because of natural disasters and hazards, the Chinese people began arriving in mass in America. Chinese called San Francisco the golden mountain.
Germans and Austro-Hungarians running from the war. Most in numbers were Chinese, Japanese and Indians whom, as ethnic groups of any size, were kept together. During this period the latter would meet with a reception not quite similar to that giver to European immigrants. The reasons lay way back in the past. 50 years beforehand, because of natural disasters and hazards, the Chinese people began arriving in mass in America. Chinese called San Francisco the golden mountain. They were initially welcomed, until the American economic problems arose in the 1870s, which were laid at the feet of the Chinese minority. Laws were passed at local and state level targeting the Chinese, attracting attention, voted by both parties in Congress order to secure the crucial western votes. Immigrants that couldn’t afford the class travels borrowed money from neighbors thinking that could make that money quickly and return it when in America. On arrival they would be separated by nationality, gender and sometimes even age.
Europeans traveling first or second class would have their papers processed on boards and disembark while Asians and other Immigrants would be ferried to Angel Island where they were detained and underwent medical inspections. In this facility they would be separated from Chinese people in San Francisco and isolated if they had communicable diseases. Medical exams procedures were a humiliating experience for Asians, as their medical practices do not include being naked in the leering eyes of strangers and measured by metal calipers. This would include being tested for infections, which if positive would lead to hospitalization at their own expenses or deportation (History of Angel Island Immigration Station). Later on, they were assigned a dormitory bunk where they would wait for their interrogations.
After the pass of the Chinese Exclusion Act, many Chinese immigrants resorted to buying false identities which allowed them to immigrant as children of natives or a married person. Children were claimed to have been born to them in America, which was not true. This happened especially after City Hall was caught on fire in San Francisco and many of the documents were burned down, so it was easy for the Chinese to make those claims. Those children on paper but without direct family connections were called “paper sons’ or “paper daughters”. As the immigrant number grew bigger, the space inside the room grew smaller so they were squished together. Since that the interrogations started intensifying. Immigrants would be called in front of a board of special inquiry where they were called before a Board of Special Inquiry composed of two immigrant inspectors, a stenographer and a translator when needed (History of Angel Island Immigration Station). Immigrants had to answer specific questions that only a genuine person would know about their house or family.
Since DNA tests were not yet out those years, the only way to see if two people were connected was through those specific questions. Sometimes they were even too specific that not even a genuine person would remember about their home, such as the number of stairs in their house or the total number of red roof houses in their village. While the number of immigrants grew, so did the days of their stay at Angel Island. Some couldn’t take it and committed suicide, and some found a way to express themselves through poems which they carved into the walls.