Writing with clarity, Newbery Medal winner Freedman (Becoming Ben Franklin, 2013, etc.) explores a lesser-known period in U.S. immigration history, when the San Francisco Golden Gate was anything but welcoming.
Opened to enforce exclusion laws, the Angel Island Immigration Station, often called the Ellis Island of the West, served as the primary gateway to the Pacific Coast between 1910 and 1940. Over half a million people from more than 80 different countries were processed there, the majority of them from China. In telling the history of Chinese people in the U.S., the author doesn’t hold back on the racial discrimination these immigrants faced, including the passing of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Despite that, immigrants came, but they faced interrogations and long periods of detention on Angel Island. Here, the experience is made most vivid and poignant when Freedman weaves in the recollections of detainees, including “picture brides” and refugees, taken from books and videos. The historical photos of Angel Island life, notably the poems expressing frustration carved in Chinese calligraphy into the barracks walls (gracefully reproduced as design accents on front- and backmatter), bring depth and perspective to a dark period in American history. In this case, the walls do talk.
As immigration continues to be a major issue in America, this introduction to the Angel Island experience is overdue and, most of all, welcome. (source notes, selected bibliography, acknowledgments, picture credits) (Nonfiction. 9-14)