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Students Are Moved by Visit to Angel Island

May 11, 2009

Professor Helgren with students on Angel Island
On April 2, 2009, Pacific students from three classes—History of American Immigration, Introduction to Ethnic Studies, and Multiethnic American Literature—visited the Angel Island Immigration Station, a National Historic Site in San Francisco Bay. All three classes are part of Pacific’s Ethnic Studies curriculum.

Modeled after New York’s Ellis Island, the Immigration Station was the point of entry for Asian immigrants, primarily Chinese, from 1910 to 1940. Unlike Ellis Island, however, Angel Island was used as the immigration detention headquarters for Chinese immigrants.

As they walked through the detention barracks, examining the Chinese poems carved on the walls by the detainees and listening to the park ranger explaining the sights, students found themselves in the presence of remnants from history.

“The beautiful poetry on the drab, gray-washed walls tells the sadness, heartbreak, fear and hope felt by the detainees,” said Allison Colberg. She added, “My time spent on Angel Island was well worth the long bus ride, and it made me take a good long look at my peers and friends, and to better understand what their grandparents and great grandparents might have gone through to make a life for themselves and for their families in America.”

Many students noted the irony in the contrast between the island’s beautiful scenery and the terrible living conditions of those detained there. “They were so close to freedom, yet they were imprisoned,” said Bobby Guarisco.

Henry Nguyen, who had visited Ellis Island several years ago, perceived many differences between the two immigration stations. “The Angel Island field trip was very eye-opening for me.”

This field trip was made possible by a grant from the Pacific Fund.

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