Angel Island Tour – Erika Gee and Casey Lee

Angel Island Tour – Erika Gee, director of education, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and Casey Lee – tour leader
Recordings by Michael Johnson
Date: 7/04
1 Disc, 21 Tracks – 74:47

TRACK 1 – 2:52


MICHAEL: This is slate. Angel Island. Well, the 8th of July. We’re waiting to go aboard the immigration station. Disembarking. Tour groups getting out.



DMAE: Do you want to go? We can go in here.


TRACK 3 – 0:13


TRACK 4 – 8:01

DMAE: Well, no. You start off saying, when people first came, this is…

Erika Gee – No, I was just going to tell you visitors arrived coming down, which is different from how immigrants would have arrived, and they would have arrived coming by water. There used to be a pier that was out down by the waterfront and that deteriorated, but one of the goals of the project is to actually recreate that pier and have a water arrival. So, arriving from that ferry that we took and then a small water taxi would take people, so that they could arrive as immigrants, by water destination. So, just the orientation of the site. This is the…well, we’re actually in a very bad place for that orientation, but the barracks building is where the immigrants were housed and spent the majority of their time in the immigration station. The benches down there is the foundation of the mess hall, which used to be where immigrants would eat their meals. There were times that it was segregated so that Asian immigrants would actually eat at a different time as non-Asian immigrants. Behind us is the hospital building and we can take a closer look at that, and that’s where immigrants were housed if they had any illnesses or medical conditions. And the big grassy field that we can’t see right now is where the administration building once stood, and that burned down in 1940. And then the other buildings that are color-coded as different, is the POW, buildings from the POW period, so during WWII that’s where the United States Army had a processing center for POWs as well as Japanese returning back to Japan, so there’s a mess hall and there’s also some barracks that are still standing from that period. And the barbed wire around the immigration barracks, that actually came from the POW period. Immigrants actually didn’t see the barbed wire as we do now.

DMAE: Are we going to walk around somewhere? Why don’t you introduce yourself, starting with I’m … and then you know, let’s walk down.

ERIKA GEE: Okay. I’m ERIKA GEE Gee, director of education at the Angel Island immigration station foundation.

DMAE: And what are we going to do next?

ERIKA GEE: We’re going to go inside the barracks building and we’ll take a look at where the immigrants were held and also see the poetry on the walls…

DMAE: You want to get the footsteps and everything…

MICHAEL: So I notice you don’t keep the mic very close…

DMAE: I like to keep it closer. (keep mic close….)


ERIKA GEE: …trader Vic. And Trader Vic is a San Francisco restaurant, so it’s Vic Bergonson. And the story that we hear is that, he dedicated because he had a number of Chinese workers in his restaurant. There’s some folklore that I’m not exactly sure if it’s true, but there was a long-time and very dedicated employee and he was retiring and they asked him what would you like? Would you like a gold watch? Would you like a special gift? And he said what I really want is something that is a reminder of this Angel Island Immigration station and so based on this man’s request, Vic Bergonson dedicated a memorial and it’s now at the Immigration station. Not sure if that’s exactly true, but that’s a story that we hear related to the dedication of the monument.

DMAE: What does that say?…..

PING: means you left your hometown and floating and occupy a wooden house means you’re staying in a detained center, in a way. you open the sky and the land basically means that you explore new place and start a new business in Golden Gate.

MICHAEL: Can you read the whole thing?


DMAE: Read it in Cantonese. Seriously.

PING: Cantonese I’m not good at reading poetry. I can talk, but reading poetry in Cantonese is a little bit hard for me

DMAE: I’m sorry, but after what Julie said: get everything in Cantonese.

PING: Yeah, I can speak Cantonese really well..


DMAE: Is there a way up there? It looks like a fence here. Notice we weren’t following you.

ERIKA GEE: So none of these stairs are original. The gate up here used to lead to a covered walkway and it would go directly to the mess hall and so these new stairs are for access now, but the covered walkway burned down and will be recreated in the new restoration project. And so we’ll give a better sense of what the immigrants went through by recreating that experience. And essentially with the covered walkway is that once immigrants were inside the administration building they pretty much didn’t go outside again – only to the recreation yard. And so most of the time they really were inside and they didn’t really have free access outside… okay, thanks, Darcy…

DMAE: And we can go up here now? Huh? Oh you go…you’re the one recording…here we can carry this…

TRACK 5 – 1:41


ERIKA GEE: We found out that the lead levels are dangerously high in the immigration station. And so don’t touch anything. That probably should not go into the radio.

DMAE: Well, you encourage people not to touch things when they go in here…

MICHAEL: It’s a San Francisco phenomenon.

ERIKA GEE: So what happens is that when they painted the immigration station they didn’t know about lead-based paint and the immigration station has about 8 layers of lead-based paint and that’s documented in the records we got from the immigration station officials.

DMAE: So you don’t want this to go on?

ERIKA GEE: Probably on. So, basically we know that this green paint was painted in 1930 or something but we have this record of all the paint…

DMAE: say ‘off the record’ before you say something…


TRACK 6 – 0:31

ERIKA GEE: Two other rooms that we used to be able to give access to.

DMAE: We can record now, right? Okay.

Should I leave you this one too?

ERIKA GEE: We’ll be back in about 10 minutes before the other group arrives. But again off the record, I’m really not supposed to be showing you this…the state park…

TRACK – 7:03



DMAE: Oh my god.

ERIKA GEE: So this room here, we’ve created as our ‘women’s living quarters,’ and women were held in this room probably in the first 2 to 3 years of the operations of the immigration station and so only a few of these bunks are original to the immigration station and then we’ve added the other bunks to get a sense of the density of how many people are actually here. So at every pole there would be a bunk attached and in these people were living in very close living quarters. Women and men were separated. And women had, women traveling with children would also have their children with them. If boys were traveling with their mom and they were about 12, 13, or 14 those boys would actually be housed with the men. So for kids this is a really scary thing. Imagine traveling and suddenly being separated from your parents. Or traveling with your mom and you had to go with all these men now. The women were actually coming in numbers that were a lot smaller than men and later women were moved to the top of the administration building, on the second floor and there are photographs of women out on the roof and that’s the administration building. And later this room was used to housemen. There are examples of poetry in this room as well as the other room, and we’ll take a closer look at the poetry in the other room.

DMAE: How many people were housed at a certain time?

ERIKA GEE: They say this room they could house about 60 people, but really they housed more than that in these rooms and health code inspectors had set a number and those numbers were much higher. The health code inspectors set a number, how many people per cubic inch and those numbers, the immigration officials always put more immigrants than those numbers, really exceeding what was to be the health code.

DMAE: And how long, can you give a sense of how long they would be in here, what their daily routine was.

ERIKA GEE: so the daily routine was, the men who were housed here would pretty much be in here all day. They would go downstairs to that mess hall, down the covered walkway and they would go for breakfast, they would go for lunch, maybe for a snack in the afternoon, and then for a dinner. There was also a time to go outside in the recreation yard and that was the yard out to the left of us and that yard actually became covered because they wanted to give people open-air access even when the weather wasn’t good, and really that was the typical day. You ate your meals, you might have a time outside, but the majority of it was spent confined to one room with lots and lots of other people.

DMAE: Is there a typical length of stay?

ERIKA GEE: The typical length of stay for a Chinese immigrant is about 2 to 3 weeks, but we know cases of people just staying a few hours, we also have cases of people staying up to 2 years. So that’s a very long time.

DMAE: What was the hygiene like?

ERIKA GEE: there were bathrooms, and the bathrooms were actually additions, but the first bathrooms that were actually designed were very small and had these floors. So imagine a bathroom of wooden floors – the conditions were not good at all. So they designed access to new bathrooms which actually had tile floors. There were a number of rumors that in the bathrooms there were suicides, from the oral history. We don’t have any confirmed records yet, but we, in the records we’ve seen we’ve never had an official case of a suicide. And we know of a suicide that took place where the immigrants were housed after the immigration station was closed when they had similar conditions, but not necessarily in this building. But because these oral histories have these cases of suicide appearing over and over, “Oh, my mom told me never to go into that bathroom,” or “people told me that suicides happened in that bathroom,” people did not want to be in the bathrooms at all and so for kids they remember these…if they were kids and former detainees they still remember these things that they heard really were powerful and it’s still in their memory.


ERIKA GEE: In “Paper Angels,” there’s a case of a man hanging himself. And “Paper Angels” was a play written by Genny Lim. And it was based on the oral histories that she and Judy did in the 1980s, so she based it on the oral histories, so we don’t know if it happened for sure, but these oral histories they kept on coming up, and it is very strong in the memories of former detainees and we just don’t have any really confirmed cases so we can’t say that yes they did happen.

DMAE: Did they change linen and that kind of thing…who maintained…

ERIKA GEE: That would be the immigration station officials and there was a laundry facility that was further down, but really a lot of it was, we used to have these little bowls and for women we think that they did a lot of hand washing of little pieces here.

DMAE: Do you want to go to the bathroom?

ERIKA GEE: Yeah, we can go to the bathroom.


TRACK 8 – 9:51

ERIKA GEE: So the current bathrooms do not have stalls in them and people come up and go ‘god, what was it like for immigrants without these stalls?’ but actually we think it’s because the stalls were then, well this facility was also used for POWs and that the stalls were taken out then, so immigrants had stalls in here. But still the amount of privacy afforded for immigrants is not the same as they were used to and these conditions were very dense and very packed in. There used to be a story about how Chinese women would be putting bags over their heads because they needed privacy, but I think that was a mix-up between Chinese-AmERIKA GEEn history and Japanese-AmERIKA GEEn internment history. And so sometimes these, in trying to find out what really happened we really have to have research and oral history interviews to figure out what really happened because a lot of times Chinese AmERIKA GEEn History, Japanese AmERIKA GEEn history a lot of this is really not known and it’s easy for people to think oh, well, this must have happened here too, and really it’s trying to get that primary source material as well as these oral histories to confirm what really happened here.


ERIKA GEE: But Ping can read this as well,

DMAE: Ping, come in here please.

ERIKA GEE: But this is our best example of a poem. And we think that what happened here is in most of our cases the poetry on the walls…

DMAE: Hold on ERIKA GEE. We want you to read this. Let her introduce this…


ERIKA GEE: So they’re actually two separate poems, but we think this is the best visual example of the poetry here and one of the reasons why this one is a great example is that typically what would happen is that the immigration officials would see what they thought was graffiti on the walls and they would cover them with putty and then they would repaint over it and so this is a case where some reason or not this poem didn’t receive the putty treatment and you can actually see the wood carving into the walls.

DMAE: Do you mind reading this in English?

ERIKA GEE: The poem reads: “Detained in this wooden house for several tens of days / It is all because of the Mexican Exclusion Law that implicates me / It is a pity heroes have no way of exercising their prowess / I can only await the word so that I can snap Tzu’s whip.” And then the second poem reads, “From now on I am departing from this building / All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me / don’t say that everything within is the western style / Even if it is built of jade, it is turned into a cage.”


DMAE: Anything else?

ERIKA GEE: No that was it, unless you want…

DMAE: She wants to film the bathroom, but I don’t think you need it…

ERIKA GEE: The main tour will only be in this room and we’ve closed access to the other one… So we have former detainees who come in here and say I remember, I was in this area, in this bunk. And in this area we have noted that the carving isn’t as good as the other places in the walls and based on Dale and some other detainees we think this is where all the young unaccompanied boys, teenage boys traveling without their fathers, without their mothers, might have been put. And so in this area we see more carvings that aren’t quite as good as other places and we also see little pictures on the walls as well. So..

DMAE: Would you start again from ‘on this wall?’ (putting batteries in)

ERIKA GEE: So we use the flashlight to often help illuminate the poetry here. I’m not very good at illuminating the poetry but the other volunteers are really good at highlighting it. And it’s really kind of an amazing experience for people who are looking at a wall and suddenly you shine light on it and this poetry or words emerge. So there are drawings on this wall and we think for this area in particular, this is the area where young boys who are 10, to 14 or 15, unaccompanied, without their parents and so we think this is where teenage boys were held and the poetry on this wall, or if it’s poetry, is not as good as the poetry on other walls. And there’s also little drawings like there are little faces as well as a little house and then there are a couple words, like for example this is “Gold Mountain” right here, Gom Sah.

DMAE: Do you read Cantonese?



PING: It looks like a lot of these writings are not poetry they’re just random writings. Like kids learning to write. Like they’d get so bored they’d just write whatever characters they’d know. You know, little kids when they learn ABC, they see a wall they write ABC…

DMAE: What about here. It seems like…

MICHAEL: Something more organized. And it’s higher up too.

PING: It’s been covered too much but it’s about people something about human and something…it’s card to read because paint covers too much of it…

TRACK 9 – 3:06

ERIKA GEE: So something that the poetry scholars did is with our poetry research we had conservationists and architectural historians and we went through and photographed every inch of this wall with huge lights so that we were able to give them a really good image and so the poetry scholars took these large images, were able to identify the poems, and based on the book of “Island,” in “Island,” which was based on these manuscripts, taking okay this is poem 32 and this is where it’s on the wall, and there are also poems that we know that were written on the walls that we can’t see here and there’s also some other writing that we see on the walls that weren’t in “Island,” so really for our interpretation we now know where the poems are and for our new exhibitions we’ll highlight different poems and try to give visitors a sense of the different writings, the styles. Very educated, high-class, scholarly poems as well as the poems of people who didn’t have as much education. Over here we have an example of what the immigrants first might have done, which was to ink the poetry or ink words onto the walls and then have somebody else carve them. And what we think is the people who wrote on the walls weren’t necessarily the people that carved the poetry because there might have been people who were trained as wood carvers and this was a collaborative process, that people who were specially trained in woodcarving would actually do the carving on the walls. Are you going to start leading your tour?


ERIKA GEE: Okay, we’re going to come down and follow your tour. Let me introduce you. This is CASEY LEE. This is Dmae, Michael, Miae and Ping and they’re from MediaRites and they’re doing this 8-part series of the history of Asian AmERIKA GEE.

CASEY LEE: It’s shrinking. I heard it was twelve. Word on the dock.

DMAE: Oh really? People are talking about it. Is Dale here today then?


ERIKA GEE: So has Dale started his tour yet?

CASEY LEE: He will be starting as soon as…

DMAE: I think I would like to go on Dale’s tour if that’s okay. Just because I’d like to hear what he says.

CASEY LEE: The only issue with that would be kids.

DMAE: How long does the tour last?

CASEY LEE: It’s long. What you could do is you could listen to him talking…

DMAE: His opening yeah. It might work out. It won’t turn off unless you take the cap off. Can we leave this stuff here?

TRACK 10 – 3:37

CASEY LEE: He was able to help do our talks. This is just an overview picture of the immigration station with the administration building, hospital, barracks and the powerhouse, the central heating building. And you can also see the wharf coming out from the administration building. The administration building and the wharf are no longer here. The administration building burned down in 1940 and that’s when this place closed as an immigration station and the wharf was falling apart so it was torn down. Some day we hope that we’ll have the ability to rebuild that so that people can arrive at the immigration station more like the immigrants did. This is another photo of the end of the wharf and a photo of immigrants during a medical exam. And this is an interior photo of the mess hall, which was part of the administration building, and then this photo is an interior photo of the barracks where we are right now, showing the three layers of bunks and an immigrant sitting on top of the bunks.

DMAE: Do you want to say your name starting with I’m and what you do here?

CASEY LEE LEE: Okay, I’m…my name is CASEY LEE Lee and I work for Angel Island state park as a park interpretive guide specialist. I give a lot of tours.

DMAE: For how long?

CASEY LEE: I’ve been working for state parks for nearly 4 years now. The bell is the bell that used to be out on the dock and it was a fog bell to warn ships away from the dock or on foggy nights out here on the bay area. And it was relocated to the island where the dock used to come ashore so people can still hear it today.

DMAE: Does it still go?

CASEY LEE: No it’s manual now. So kids are ringing it. All right, so do you guys want to go listen to Dale…

ERIKA GEE: He’s not as interactive but he gives this big introduction first and then he’ll talk more about the history so you can get a sense of his tour based on that introduction and then we can

CASEY LEE: And he talks more about his personal experience.

DMAE: That’s what I want.

CASEY LEE: And what I’ll do is…what time do you guys have to leave?

DMAE: 1:20.

CASEY LEE: So I’ll give a tour to my group and after you guys are done with Dale then I can spend some time with you guys…

DMAE: Or we can do the opposite too.


DMAE: So do you guys have .jpgs of all these photos.


ERIKA GEE: So right over here is the recreation yard and the mess hall – this whole area used to be covered. So that was where daily people could come out, maybe play some volleyball, but really get some fresh air before they had to come back inside.

DMAE: What do you mean covered?

TRACK 11 – 2:06

ERIKA GEE: We have pictures and it’s like a patio.


ERIKA GEE: The other thing is that you can always interview Dale on his own cuz he lives in Daly City and he’s used to talking to a lot of different groups.



DALE: …hello.


ERIKA GEE: Off the record. Let me just introduce you. I’m working with the Angel Island immigration station foundation…

TRACK 12 – 15:44

DALE: Okay. Well, as I was saying. Panama canal was building at the time this place was opening. So they figured out it was complete there could be a lot of immigrants no matter where they come from, they will come through the canal and go to the West Coast. Well, they figured that out, but it did not happen when this place was open, the canal was still building, it was not complete yet. So they say well, we don’t have anything to do now. What are you going to do – spend all the money to build this thing up, nobody show up. So they figured out well, we use this with Asian immigrants. That means there’s a lot of immigrants come through to here. Especially the Chinese is one group. The Japanese, the Filipino, Korea, India, Pakistan and also the white Russian also come this way. now, they come and happy because they have work to do. Fine. Now, the biggest group to come to here is the Chinese immigrant. Now how did they get here? As a rule, it doesn’t make any difference where they come from, let’s say talk about the Chinese immigrant. The Chinese immigrant, usually they come from around at the time they’re from southern part of China, Guangdong. Now how did they get here back then, is all come by boat, no air. It takes about 22 days from Hong Kong to San Francisco. At the time all the immigrant come, the majority of them new immigrant and some returned citizen. They all come by and they stop. They did not come to the island. They stop at San Francisco and they get off the boat. All the immigrant, the new immigrant, they get off last. They put you on the ferry, bring you right up to this point on the dock. We did have a dock there. That’s how they do it. And when they get off the ferry, the welcome party is waiting for you. When I say the welcome party I don’t mean they strike up a band or anything like that. There’s armed guards all in uniform and they have firearm, handcuff, nightstick and so on. And if you step out of line, you ask for it. Okay. That’s the way it was. Like today you come here only a few hours. You bring your backpack, like myself. And your lunch and so on. But the immigrant do not have to bring their lunch. They don’t have lunch. But they do have suitcase and suitcase and lots of belongings. Well, the guy was saying all right, put all your belongings in the warehouse. Put them all in the warehouse, you will get them back when you leave. Now, that could be some time. The average is about 4 days to about 3 year or longer. Now do me a favor. Turn around, take a look at the building behind you. Nice building from the outside. We got a new paintjob and recently we had the new windows replaced. Sorry, we cannot bring you inside today. Only one room we can show you the others we cannot. So start with all the people get off the ferry, put all your belonging away in the warehouse, the guard will march you up, bring you up to this point. Right behind me, that’s the hospital. The hospital for this area. You go in there, you will see a doctor. The doctor is a man doctor. They will separate you, men going in one examination room, ladies going in the other room. You go in there you will see the doctor, one at a time. They will make you take off your clothes. Remove all your clothes, it got embarrassing to say the least. You go in the doctor will give you a complete checkup, make sure you’re okay. Especially the Chinese can not speak English, so we don’t what they want to know or what they’re talking about, but you do it, the doctor turn you around here and there, you do it. It was the same thing to go through for a woman. It doesn’t make any difference a doctor is a doctor, but it’s still embarrassing to do that. Let’s say you are healthy, no sickness, no cough, no catching cold or whatever. You pass the examination. The guard will march you up there and take you into the barracks. The only way you can get up there is through the gate at the top there. All right? Now we are not going to talk about that until we go inside. We can tell you a little bit out here. This is one big building all the way around to the roof. The picture of the building here from that, which is the whole place is one big building, unfortunately the building is gone back in 1940. Some short circuit in the powerhouse burned it down, so no longer there now. Okay, after the grassy area is the administration building and interrogations office. The cement area here is the dining room and the kitchen. This room here is mostly for the Chinese immigrant and this is the setup of what this looked like. See you have the counter is right there and the long table all the way back and when you come down here and eat of course the men section is right there and separation and the women’s is over there. That’s the way it looked like. Now, today unfortunately we cannot go inside, so I cannot show you the writing on the wall. You probably heard about it, there’s a lot of them especially in the men’s side. Almost every inches of the man’s side, you have writing on it. But unfortunately we cannot see it all but one is a perfectly good one and that’s the one that saved the whole building, that saved the whole immigration station area. Perfectly good. Even that good one we cannot show you today. All right? This thing here, is fortunately for us to be here today because the building was so old when they closed it in 1940 and nobody used it and the building deteriorate itself like the rest of the building. So the recreation department in Sacramento said the building is too old – it’s too dangerous to have on an island. The best thing to do is to tear down or burn it. The ranger walked through the building, he didn’t find anything sacred. Good anything, but he find that. He find that on the wall but he cannot read it, he don’t know what it is. So he went up there in San Francisco, got a professor from the college, came down here and looked at it. The professor say hey, it’s very important preserving it, and meantime the government want to tear it down. Well, we’ve been fighting, fighting back and forth and finally the recreation department say okay, we will preserve it, make this a museum. That’s back in 1970 or so. They finally opened it again and retried to get everything back in good condition. It’s very hard, it’s so old inside. That’s the reason we cannot let you in, we’re still working on it and it takes some time. I know it’s been taking a lot of time. The last time we took a group in there was about November of last year. That’s the last time I went through the building and since then it’s close for that many months. To me it looks like not too much improved from the look except all the windows changed is new. New windows to get more light inside. But we’re still working on getting everything back indoors the old way. now, before I let you go or before we divide it in three group, do you have a question for me? …all the other buildings already deteriorate. Only 3, 4 buildings left. 4 buildings. one that’s on top of the row, the 2-story building. That was a closet-like when … the second building is over there in the hospital. The hospital there, the white building and the yellow strip. The third one is down there, the yellow building and the red roof. When you have time, you can go down and you can look around. And of course this is the main building. That’s the only 4 buildings left. The rest of the buildings deteriorate and are all gone, including this building and the old dock. Okay? You got a question for me? … not now. Back then, you had to go through the physical checkup before you came into that building…

CHILD: There was a few buildings that had signs, but there was one that had a tree fell on it and it looked like a storage place but I was just wondering what it was. When we were coming down here. It was farther down from the old barn place but it had metal on the sides and it had doors and it looked like it was a place that stored stuff but I don’t know…

DALE: The only place we named that place was the ? “Mailbox.” Yes?

LADY: Do you know how soon renovations will be done?

DALE: How soon? Possible in a couple year. Or more. Or longer, we don’t know. Even take them 8 month to put those windows in you can figure it out for yourself. I can’t tell you how long. They closed it after November this year. Maybe close it for the next year and a half or two year, maybe longer I don’t know. All depends. Anybody else? Okay. Anybody know how to read Chinese? Okay. Excuse me.

DALE: FAR AWAY…this monument don’t belong here…1910 to 1940…dining room and the kitchen…1978 that monument was put here. Why was it put here? Because a guy give it to us. A restaurant owner, trader Vic…why did he give it to us? ….TRAILS OFF

TRACK 13 – 3:55

MICHAEL: Slate. We’re approaching the fog bell with the tour from Oracle.


(someone introducing you)

ERIKA GEE: So this would be a piece that would be broadcast on NPR. So if we could just follow you around.

CASEY LEE: So thank you for holding your questions. All right. So where are we? We’re about to go outside. Does anyone have any questions about that process? Let’s see. the whole point about you coming here today is to learn a bit about this background, but the important thing here is we really have an opportunity to listen to the people who were here. In a way we get to listen to the people who were here because they left something behind, and that was their poetry. The people who lived here were very frustrated, they were very angry, they were sad, they were depressed, and to help them deal with those emotions, because they didn’t get an opportunity to express them in other ways, they started writing on the walls. And some people wrote in ink, some people carved into walls, and a lot of the writing is actually poetry, so it’s a unique opportunity…what was that? Is there anyone here who does read Chinese? Awesome, so we’ll get to hear some of it too because poetry is an oral art form and we should definitely listen to it as well as look at it. So we’re going to go up into the building…where all the kids are going, well, we’ll work around them. Do you want the bell?

DMAE: yeah, might need it a couple times.

BELL RINGS 3 TIMES (first one is best)

DMAE: Do you want to wait till they all leave and then ring it again? Ready?

TRACK 14 – 0:21

MICHAEL: It’s too windy. Cuz I’m going to have to come back for other stuff…

TRACK 15 – 0:15

DMAE: Do you want to take over for a while?

MICHAEL: If you want to mark tracks, hit this button to mark a track.

TRACK 16 – 4:45

CASEY LEE: …they were much more motivated to catch the bad guys, the criminals. Let’s see. yeah. (Indian man asks question). Reasoning behind use as a detention center? Part of it is the island factor. An island is a good place for a prison in that it’s hard to escape from. Or in detention, it’s hard for people to get away. Part of the reason that they brought the immigration station to the island is that prior to that it was in San Francisco and they were concerned about people conspiring, cheating, escaping. They had a lot of problems with people cheating during the interrogation process, which as I explained before, happened here too with the help of the cooks and so that was the motivation behind moving here. Also it was an improved facility. The steamship companies, despite not having complete responsibility for the housing were still partially financially responsible for the housing of the immigrants, and so they were the ones footing the bill for meals, that’s why the meals were so good, because it was cheaper.

MAN: So this is not related to Alcatraz in any way?

CASEY LEE: Yes and no. Alcatraz is, was a military base before it became a prison in conjunction with Camp Reynolds which is on the west side of Angel Island. They were part of the coastal defense of San Francisco bay during the Civil War. Then Alcatraz became a military prison and then a Federal prison but as far as prisoners no, there’s no direct connection.

MAN: But would ships from China or Japan come dock straight here at Angel Island? Is that why because harbor facilities here?

CASEY LEE: The ships coming over here bringing Asian immigrants did not go directly to Angel Island. They landed in San Francisco so passengers that were allowed to were allowed to disembark and then anyone that needed further processing because of immigration or needed to be quarantined for disease were brought here to Angel Island on a smaller ferry boat. And they would go through the processing here.

MAN: How many people were here at any point of time?

CASEY LEE: That is one of the more difficult questions, believe it or not. We don’t know for sure and part of the reason we don’t have good numbers is because of the different agencies that were in charge over the years and the different types of record keeping they did. Part of…the numbers that we give out here, we think that about 1/2 million peoples, well let me start again, we think that about 1 million people’s paperwork came through Angel Island, not actual people just their paperwork. About half of those people were immigrating and half of those people were emigrating, leaving the country. So about half a million were coming in in paperwork. We think about 175,000 of those were Chinese coming through Angel Island. So probably ½ of that paperwork represented people coming through, so about 250,000 people coming through, with 175,000 Chinese.

MAN: Over 30 years.

CASEY LEE: Over 30 years. Far less than our counterpart, Ellis Island, that served millions of people, but an average day on Ellis Island was 2 to 3 hours, contrasted with Angel Island’s 2 to 3 average for non-Chinese immigrants, the 2 to 3 weeks for Chinese immigrants. So big difference. And some people do call this the Ellis Island of the West, you may have heard of that. Be we kind of think of that as a misnomer, because when people think of Ellis Island they get a very romanticized view of immigration. You have the statue of liberty right next-door welcoming people, “Give us your tired, your poor,” and Angel Island was known at the time as the Guardian of the Western Gate. It was the place people were sent that were trying to be deported. So it’s a very different place, basically, view. You guys ready to try and get in this building.

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GIRL: What kind of recording? That’s an MD? A minidisk?

TRACK 18 – 0:15

ERIKA GEE: Here. This is a barracks building that was used for the POW era and so either officers or soldiers were held there, whereas prisoners of war were held in here.

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