Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, millions of people migrated to America in order to escape poverty, oppression, and war in their own countries. Among these immigrants were Australians and New Zealanders, Canadians, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Russians, Japanese, and Chinese. Before being allowed to land on the West Coast, immigrants would land and be processed at Angel Island, located in the bay of San Francisco, California. The United States Immigration Station located on Angel Island processed immigrants who were the most restricted by U.S. law. While detained, their fate in America was uncertain.
The majority of individuals detained and discriminated against were of Chinese decent. In 1882 Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act, which was meant to ban Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. The only Chinese who could come to the U.S. legally were merchants, teachers, students, diplomats, and sons and daughters of those born here as American-born citizens and of merchants. The U.S. developed a process to determine which immigrants were really in this exempt status and those who were "paper sons and daughters" - people using false papers to come to this country. This process of enforcing the Exclusion Act made it unbelievably difficult for Chinese to enter the U.S. at this time. The system of “Paper Sons” and “Paper Daughters” was created in order to get around the Act. Purchased identities would allow entrance into the United States, although not easily. Those born here as American citizens, or those who claimed to be, as well as merchants who had exempt status would provide or sell identities claiming that someone was his child. The false identities, and information supporting them such as details of their family home and neighborhood, needed to be memorized, and maintained for life. U.S. officials would interrogate immigrants, even children, for hours or days at a time, comparing their answers with those of their alleged fathers. One small mistake could cause automatic deportation, although many appealed their cases for months or even years.
Immigrants would be detained for months at a time at the Immigration Station, located on Angel Island. Undergoing grueling interrogations, proved to be the ultimate threat of any detainee. Life there was lonely, and living conditions were unsafe. Traces of once hopeful entry to America envelop the Immigration Station, leaving us an idea of what the detainee’s lives were like.
Few former detainees are still alive today, forever remembering the experiences he or she had on Angel Island. It is not uncommon for a former detainee to pass away holding on to those memories. Some feared of being deported back to their country, while others endured horrific events that made them uncomfortable. Although many former detainees do not wish come public, others hope that unknowing individuals will take the time to learn about his or her story.
Angel Island’s shrouded history is a rather unpleasant one. Each immigrant’s record is unique, but in some ways overlap. For now, our understanding of these individuals’ importance to American history continues to expand. It is crucial that future generations fully comprehend what happened at Angel Island. In time, all that will remain is the resonating stories passed down from these brave immigrants.
Angel Island, Belvedere Tiburon, CA, 2016
Immigrants would make a one month voyage by steamship across the Pacific Ocean, stopping in Honolulu, Manila, Yokohama, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Isolated from any outside communication, Angel Island rests in the San Francisco Bay.
Hop Jeong, 2016
Hop Jeong was born in Canton, China in 1930, where he lived in poverty with his mother, father, and two siblings. At the age of ten, he began his uncertain journey to America in hopes of greater opportunities. Hop was a “Paper Son." In preparation of his interrogations on Angel Island, he would study his coaching papers given to him by his grandfather, and commit his false identity to memory.
Hop Jeong, 2016
Arriving at Angel Island in September 1940, Hop Jeong was detained for a lengthy two months. His memory of life at Angel Island is vague. Undergoing interrogation felt unusual for a child of ten years old. “I didn’t feel discriminated against. I just thought that’s how things were in America. I didn’t know any better," says Hop Jeong. Author Milly Lee wrote the children’s book “Landed,” which depicts a paper son’s real experience immigrating to America. Hop Jeong provided information about his experience to the author in order to complete her book, and in return a character was named Hop.
David Leong, 2016
“When the Japanese invaded China back in 1933 or 34 they were flying over shooting at us by plane. They weren’t on land yet. We ran from home. My ma and a bunch of us went up to the hill and hid under the trees. But since they saw us going up there they started shooting at us. When you’re sitting and squatting under a tree, the sand where the bullets hit would fly up. I don’t know what happened, I was rolling down a hill. I remember my mom went down after me and she became really strong and grabbed me by my diapers and just run back up. I was about two or three. We left home and went to live in Macau. We were at war with the Japanese," says David Leong.
David Leong, 2016
David Leong was originally born in Canton, China in 1932. At the age of only eight years old, he traveled eighteen days on a ship to San Francisco, California from Hong Kong, China as a “Paper Son.” He was held at Angel Island for a month before being interrogated then released. “I don’t recall any bad experiences. I don’t know if I was scared, or too young to think I was scared, because they were not hurting me. I didn’t know what was going on," says David Leong.
Angel Island, Belvedere Tiburon, CA, 2016
Upon reaching the west coast, immigrants hopeful of entry to America would be met by the wooden buildings of Angel Island. The Detention Barracks is where immigrants would be assigned a bunk and await to be interrogated. Although modeled after the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York, the Angel Island Immigration Station was created to reject immigrants, specifically those from China.
Ben Fong, 2017
Ben Fong, 2017
Dr. Herbert Yee, 2017
Dr. Herbert Yee, 2017
Angel Island, Belvedere Tiburon, CA, 2016
Rows of multi-tiered bunks fill the inside of the Detention Barracks. With little space, poor ventilation, and filthy restrooms, living conditions proved to be unfit.
Lai Wah Webster, 2017
Lai Wah Webster, 2017
Don Lee, 2016
“The only thing I am going to say about Angel Island, is in its self, it’s a period that is what we call an impression on you. To the extent that it’s a complete transition from a village type into the new world. But it was not as pleasant of an experience that you would normally expect when you run into something new. It was completely new, but it also makes an impression on me that is such an awkward position for someone at eleven years old to be put in. And to subject someone to go through at least four or five interrogations, it means they keep trying to look for something to break you. So in effect it does have that impact. It’s intimidation at almost every point that I can recall. For a youngster to experience that is quite a bit I would say," says Don Lee.
Don Lee, 2016
Don Lee was born in 1927, in the southern part of Canton, China. At the time, this area of China was encountering starvation, poverty, and perennial flooding. Once the Japanese army invaded China in 1939, he fled to join his father Suey S. Lee, who was working in the U.S.A. Immigrating legally as the son of a citizen, it was expected to be a simple process. After being detained at Angel Island for a month and being interrogated five times, Don Lee finally met his father for the first time in his life.
Angel Island, Belvedere Tiburon, CA, 2016
Detained in this wooden house for several tens of days, 
It is all because of the Mexican exclusion law which implicates me. 
It’s a pity heroes have no way of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so that I can snap Zu’s whip.

From now on, I am departing far from this building.
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.
This is an ongoing photo essay. I am still looking for detainees to photograph. Please contact me if you know someone who is willing. 
Thank you.
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