Poetic Justice for a Feared Immigrant Stop
ANGEL ISLAND, Calif., Dec. 1 - It was known, simply, as "the wooden building." For 30 years, from 1910 to 1940, the barren walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station gave mute testimony to the experiences of roughly 175,000 Chinese immigrants who were detained and exhaustively interrogated on this island in San Francisco Bay, the West Coast's insidious version of Ellis Island.
On Thursday, this little-spoken-about place, the physical embodiment of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was intended to prevent Chinese laborers from entering the country, received long-awaited recognition when President Bush signed into law the Angel Island Immigration Station Restoration and Preservation Act.
The legislation, a result of a 35-year effort by the nonprofit Angel Island Immigration Foundation, authorizes up to $15 million to establish a museum and genealogical research center on the island and to help preserve two original structures, including barracks with chicken-wire clerestories and melancholy graffiti - eloquent poems carved on wooden walls and routinely puttied and painted over by the authorities. The immigration station, nestled in a eucalyptus grove on the largest island in the bay, is a national historic landmark, though it is closed to the public.
"Ellis Island was created to let Europeans in," said Robert E. Barde, deputy director of the Institute of Business and Economic Research at the University of California, Berkeley, who is writing a book on immigration. "Angel Island was created to keep the Chinese out." The Exclusion Act, repealed in 1943 when China became America's ally in World War II, was the culmination of decades of anti-Chinese sentiment in the aftermath of an economic depression that resulted in mob violence and lynching.
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