cover image Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

Russell Freedman. Clarion, $17.99 (96p) ISBN 978-0-547-90378-1

Freedman (Becoming Ben Franklin) details the fascinating and sometimes upsetting history of the “Ellis Island of the West” as he examines Asian immigration to the U.S. at the start of the 20th century. The many Chinese immigrants who disembarked at Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940 usually found it more detention than welcoming center. A thorough narrative, with personal vignettes and b&w archival photos, describes the taxing sea voyage from Asia, long detentions at the island, and intolerant attitudes endemic in America. Owing to strict exclusion laws for the Chinese (and later other Asian groups), thousands waited in cramped barracks for medical tests and stringent interviews. (Freedman also includes resistance stories of immigrants already settled in the country to these prejudicial laws, e.g., returning laundry to customers folded but still dirty.) Making this poignant account even more so are translated poems interspersed throughout, written by despairing detainees on barrack walls: “Nights are long, the pillow cold; who can comfort my solitude?.... Shouldn’t I just return home and learn to plow the fields?” A selected bibliography and index are included. Ages 9–12. (Jan.)