Friday, October 24, 2014

Angel Island; Gateway to Gold Mountain

by Russel Freedman. Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan. Clarion Books, 2014. (Library copy). This nonfiction text for young people covers the west coast immigration center Angel Island in San Fransisco Bay. Between 1910 and 1940 more than half a million people from 80 countries passed through this station. After being examined medically and interrogated, they often waited weeks or months in shoddy wooden dormitories behind barbed wire. If they could not prove they were US citizens or members of carefully regimented groups deemed worthy to enter, including diplomats, merchants, students and teachers, they were sent back to their home countries disappointed and disgraced.

When park ranger Alexander Weiss first visited Angel Island in 1970 he found a long abandoned dormitory about to be demolished. With his flashlight he noticed strange markings on the walls. As he looked closer he discovered he found Chinese calligraphy carved into the walls and covered by a layer of chipped paint.

I looked around and shined my flashlight up and I could see that the entire walls were covered with calligraphy, and that was what blew me away", he remembered. "People had carved the stuff on eery square inch of wall space, not just in this one room but all over."
 Weiss told authorities about the carvings but was brushed aside. He couldn't forget about it and brought friends and colleagues to see them. Gradually more and more people got interested. The Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State College became interested and got the Asian American community involved in activism to save the historic landmark. It is open for visitors now, so anyone can go see the poems carved into the walls.

The book goes into the history of Chinese immigration and the discrimination and oppression they endured. Scattered throughout the book are original photographs of the people and places described, with many individual family stories portrayed. It is touching and illuminating to see this poignant side of our American history.

Also included are many of the original poems that are carved into the walls at Angel Island facilities, translated into English. Here is my favorite one:

Four days before the Festival of Reunion, I embarked on the steamship for America.
Time was like an arrow shooting through a cool autumn.
Counting on my fingers, several months have passed, leaving me still at the beginning of the road.
I have yet to be interrogated.
My heart is anxious, and weary.

The text explains -

"Another Chinese immigrants,Tet Yee, who spent six months at Angel Island, copied down ninety-six poems. "The people who wrote the poems did not know what would become of them on Angel Island," Tet Yee explained, "or if they would ever get off the island and make it to San Francisco. The poems were their only means of expressing their inner feelings."

Most of the Chinese immigrants were young men in their teens and twenties. I can see this book being an important part of a class study of immigration and the history of the western development of America in grades 4 - 6 cross-curriculum for Language Arts and Social Studies. With so much in the news these days about unaccompanied minors coming into the States from Central America, this is very relevant for today's youth.


Kirkus Review

Publishers Weekly

 KidsReads Review

CommonsenseMedia Review

Russell Freedman biography at Scholastic Teachers

Today's Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Cathy at Merely Day by Day.



jama said...

Wow, what a fascinating book. I don't know much about Angel Island and those poems carved on the walls are very cool. Thanks for the nice review!

Cathy said...

This books looks quite interesting. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.


Mary Lee said...

I can't wait to see this book!