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Oct 06th
Home Sections History Once “Hellish,” Angel Island Now Teems With Tourists
Once “Hellish,” Angel Island Now Teems With Tourists PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - History
Thursday, 03 November 2011 19:29



(© 2011 Journal Group Link International)


(Second Part of a Series)


A NGEL ISLAND, San Francisco Bay, California (jGLi)  -- There was no doubt the news of the Gold Rush in California between 1848 and 1855 attracted many people from foreign countries to immigrate to California.


The gold-seekers called “forty-niners” in reference to the year1849 must have weighed considerably in their decision to leave their countries and looked for their fabled American Dreams.


But for intending Chinese immigrants, America was in no mood to welcome them. Thanks to the Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred the entry of Chinese into the United States, the Angel Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay that was supposed to be the welcoming “Ellis Island of the West” had turned into a “Guardian of the Western Gate” fortress that would scrutinize the new Chinese arrivals like a very fine-toothed comb.


Today, some of those who endured the virtual immigration camp in Angel Island are making a comeback – as tourists, taking sentimental visits. I met some of them when I visited Angel Island last Oct. 16, along with my friends, Osmundo Dizon, Jr., a visitor from the Philippines; Osmundo’s brother Andy Dizon of Milpitas, Ronnie M. Estrada of San Jose and Bong Monsod of Los Angeles.


Ms. Amy Brees, Angel Island State Park Superintendent, was very welcoming when I inquired if I could pay Angel Island a visit. With some instructions from Ms. Carolyn Horgan, operations chief of the Blue and Gold Fleet, we boarded the ferry at about 12:25 p.m. at Pier 41 of Embarcadero in San Francisco.




On board the ferry, I met its courteous deck hands Lou Cook and Zigmond Collins, who told me the ferry, which was not filled to the brim when it pulled away from Pier 41, had capacity for 700 passengers.


As we passed by the breathtaking Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and San Francisco skyline, we went straight to the Immigration Station upon our arrival at Angel Island, as we needed at least an hour and a half to look around.


I first got wind of the Angel Island from a fellow from Chicago, Ms. Estrella Alamar, a native Chicagoan, who told me she was going to deliver a paper on the existence of Angel Island at the 9th Biennial Regional Conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society, Midwest Chapter, on Oct. 21-23 in St. Louis, Missouri to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal.


Ms. Alamar said that after her father, Florentino Ravelo, was married in the Philippines to Ambrosia Galutera and came to America on Jan. 19, 1935, her father was also processed at the Angel Island.


Ms. Alamar did not mention if her father had a hard time during the interview with the immigration authorities at the Angel Island. If he did not, it was understandable if Filipinos were given leniency during the time because the Philippines was a Commonwealth of the United States and were considered as American "nationals.”


Unlike the Filipinos, a young Chinese immigrant, who wanted to enter the U.S. at that time, had to scout in advance for a Chinese “parent” living in the U.S. who would be willing to recognize him as his “son.” 




B ut the “paper son” had to hurdle a challenge – he should match the answers posed to him and his “parent” while they were interviewed separately by the immigration authorities.


If the “paper son” messed up with his answer, he would be in line for deportation.

Here are the typical questions posed on the “paper son” and the “parent:”

  • How many houses are there in your village (in China)?]
  • How many stairs lead up to your house?
  • How many chickens did you own? 
  • Which direction does the family altar face?
  • Recite your family history.


For the hundreds, if not thousands, who flunked the immigration questions, they stayed in the Islands for many months until they befriended their guards, some of them out of sympathy helped them out with their answers. But others eventually won on appeal.


When the U.S. and China became allies during World War II in 1943, it was only the time that immigration of Chinese was allowed.


Aside from Chinese, there were about 80 other nationalities, including Filipinos, who were processed for immigration in the island.


When Spanish navigator Juan de Ayala anchored off Angel Island and gave it its modern name, Isla de los Angeles, in 1775, nobody could tell that it was going to be a “Hell Island” for 30 years for Asians, mostly Chinese, who would be processed for immigration into the United States.


Today, as a popular attraction, Angel Island, now managed by California State Park, is accessible by ferry from San Francisco, Tiburon and Alameda.

When we got to the Island after a 30-minute ferry ride (one way), we noticed that it was ideal for picnic, biking, bird watching, camping, fishing, hiking, visiting historical site, photographer, Segway tours, summer camp for kids and tram tour, etc. # # #


Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at: (



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Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 November 2011 15:49

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