Friday, March 6, 2009

Heavenly tours on Angel Island

The reopening of the Ellis Island of the West—the US Immigration Station at Angel Island State Park— has unocked an historic treasure. The museum tells the moving story of the trials of immigrants who were detained here, oftentimes for weeks or months, between 1910-1950.

You'll come away with a picture of Angel Island as a Pacific gateway for immigrants and the broader Pacific immigration that took place on the West Coast (as opposed to the largely European influx that streamed through Ellis Island).

Some detainees (most were Chinese) carved their stories in poetry on the wooden walls and many of the poems are still visible today. Other stories of the "paper sons and daughters" have been painstakingly recreated and are finally told in the graphics and artifacts of the new Barracks Museum.

One goal: to help people to understand what it was like to come through the Immigration Station and go through medical exams, personal interrogations, and sometimes lengthy detainment. Inside the barracks, historically furnished rooms will give visitors a feeling for the cramped quarters; lighting of the poetry—carved or inked into the barrack walls—lets visitors discover the enormous effort put forth by the Chinese and other immigrants to document their experiences.

Last week, the U.S. Immigration Station at Ellis Island and the Angel Island Immigration Station were officially joined as sister parks. That means they will share information and collaborate on enhancing the historic story of immigration to the United States, tying together two of the main immigration entry points to the United States during the early 1900s. A guided tour can be a memorable history lesson for the kids, and, for adults, a sobering reminder of past immigration struggles. Lighten up the day with a picnic on the island and a hike to the top for splendid views.

This month, guided barracks tours were offered to groups, but all March tours have already sold out. In April, both individuals and groups can tour the barracks from Wednesday through Sunday. Groups of 10 or more can reserve tours, with open spaces made available on the day of the tour to individuals on a first-come, first-served basis, by calling 415/ 435-3522. Get more info on getting to the park by clicking here.

PHOTO: Courtesy California State Parks, 2009

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COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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