Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

"It is said that these Chinese are entitled while they remain  to the
safeguards of the Constitution and to the protection of the laws in  regard to
their rights of person and of property, but that they continue to be  aliens,
subject to the absolute power of Congress to forcibly remove them.   In
other words, the guaranties of 'life, liberty, and property' named in the
Constitution, are theirs by sufferance, and not of right.  Of what avail  are
such guaranties?...
"In view of this enactment by the highest legislative body of  the foremost
Christian nation, may not the thoughtful Chinese disciple of  Confucius
fairly ask, 'Why do they send missionaries here?'"
-- from the 1893 dissenting opinion of U.S. Supreme Court  Associate
Justice David Brewer in Fong Yue Ting v. United States et al. Wong  Quan v. United
States et al. Lee Joe v. United States et al., in which the  majority of
the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Geary Act of 1892  (Retrieved

The Geary Act, as explained here by Russell  Freedman,

"required all persons of Chinese descent, including  native-born citizens,
to carry photo identification cards proving their lawful  presence in the
United States.  At the time, no other group was required to  hold such

That the Fong Yue Ting decision was handed down just three  years prior to
the Court's infamous Plessy v. Ferguson  decision, has me suspecting that
the late nineteenth century was a  pretty lousy time to be anything but a
white Christian male if you found  yourself in America.

And, yet, the willingness of the American Library  Association's 1961
Newbery award committee to honor the Chinese stereotype-laden  children's book, A
CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE (insuring the perpetuation of these  stereotypes
and prejudice through, yet, another generation thanks to all the  teachers
across the country who then read the ALA-blessed CRICKET to  their elementary
students), tells me that widespread acceptance of American  anti-Chinese
sentiment was not a passing fad, but was -- and many might  argue, still is --
deeply entrenched.  (Somewhere along the way, in  later editions, the most
egregious language in CRICKET was edited  out.)

Wait!  I thought this was a book about Angel  Island?

And that it is.  I learned from Freedman's  ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD
MOUNTAIN that the infamous immigration  station on Angel Island, more than
anything, was an  important tool in decades-long, government-sanctioned,
xenophobic legislating against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans  trying
to come home.  That immigration station was built upon decades of  prejudice:

"Politicians...were demanding that Chinese immigrants be  excluded from the
United States.  The Chinese were undesirable aliens, they  charged, willing
to take on any type of work and to work for longer  hours for less pay --
depriving whites of jobs.  At a California  Senate committee hearing in 1876,
Chinese immigration was described as an  'unarmed invasion' that threatened
the entire country.  The rallying cry of  the Workingmen's Party of
California was 'The Chinese Must  Go!'"

(Doesn't that sound an awful lot like certain  contemporary politicians and
media darlings ranting about Hispanic  immigrants and Hispanic Americans?)

Here in California, ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD  MOUNTAIN will be a
welcome and important addition to the trade  literature available to help teach
California history.  Freedman  first walks readers through all of the
atrocities perpetuated against the  Chinese -- by mobs and through legislation
--beginning in the 1800s, so  that when he proceeds to detail what Angel
Island's Immigration Station was  all about, we understand why the system there was
set up as it  was.

We teach California history in fourth grade.  Consistent  with that fourth
grade audience, this book is -- in relation to Freedman's  typical
authorship -- a relatively shorter book with relatively larger text and  plenty of
photos.  It will be readily accessible to that fourth grade  audience and will
also serve quite notably as a great  introduction for older readers who,
like me, will likely finish it  wanting to know more about all sorts of
interrelated issues and events  that Freedman introduces.

It has now been five years since I rode the ferry from  Tiburon over to
Angel Island and wandered the trails around what is one heck of  a beautiful
place.  Last time, it was the summer before the Immigration  Station was
opened as a museum.  Now, understanding the significance of  that facility, I'll
be heading down there in the near future for another visit.

Ages 9 and up  96 pages  978-0-547-90378-1

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (


Angel Island, off the coast of California, was the port of entry for Asian immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1940. Following the passage of legislation requiring the screening of immigrants, "the other Ellis Island" processed around one million people from Japan, China, and Korea. Drawing from memoirs, diaries, letters, and the "wall poems" discovered at the facility long after it closed, the nonfiction master Russell Freedman describes the people who came, and why; the screening process; detention and deportation; changes in immigration policy; and the eventual renaissance of Angel Island as a historic site open to visitors. Includes archival photos, source notes, bibliography, and index.  – from the publisher

96 pages    978-0544810891  Ages 10-12  Grades 5-7

Keywords: immigrants, immigration, Angel Island, American history, diversity, diverse books, multicultural, prejudice, discrimination, racism, injustice, social conditions, social issues, social commentary, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, Social Studies Curriculum

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