Ellis Island Of The West Marks Centenary San Francisco's Angel Island marks its centenary on Thursday. Although an immigration station, the location, known as the Ellis Island of the West, also was known for keeping people out: mainly Chinese and other Asian immigrants.
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Ellis Island Of The West Marks Centenary

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Ellis Island Of The West Marks Centenary

Ellis Island Of The West Marks Centenary

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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Angel Island has been called the Ellis Island of the West. It's in the San Francisco Bay and was the first immigration station here in the West. Today is the 100th anniversary of its opening. To celebrate, 100 people were sworn in as new American citizens at Angel Island today. In the past, immigrants received a decidedly less enthusiastic welcome.

Nina Thorsen of member station KQED reports.

Unidentified Man: Burkina Faso...

NINA THORSEN: Today's 100 new citizens came from 44 different countries.

Unidentified Man: China, Czech Republic, Egypt...

THORSEN: No doubt each of them could tell a story of sacrifices and difficulties along the road to America. The immigration process isnt easy. But it's much easier than the path taken by those who came through the Angel Island immigration station before it closed in 1940.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, mostly from Asia, were processed there, and in the days when most Asians were not allowed to become citizens, the reception they found at Angel Island was not welcoming. Li-King Ji-Wan(ph) was a little girl when she arrived in the 1930s, and she was lucky. Her father was already a citizen.

Ms.�LI-KING JI-WAN: My mother and three sisters stayed on Angel Island four, five days. That was a very short period because the other people who were there told us some of them had been there three months, one year and they were really kind of worried.

THORSEN: The other inmates had reason to be worried. Many of them would be sent back to their countries of origin. Asian immigration was limited in the first half of the 20th century by federal laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act. Many found the only way in was to deceive the immigration officers.

Buck Gee(ph) is president of the nonprofit that helps fund the historic site and the son of an Angel Island immigrant.

Mr.�BUCK GEE: It's not like Ellis Island, where people were just registered to come in. No Chinese could come in California unless you were an American citizen. So what people did is they essentially bought papers to enter the country, claiming they were the son of an American citizen. And so people spent time on the island being interrogated to see if, in fact, they could confirm or not they were the people they claimed they were.

THORSEN: Today, Angel Island is a California state park. It's a popular day trip from San Francisco, just a ferry boat ride away, next to Alcatraz. Visitors can hike or picnic, or they can check out the remains of the immigration station, now a museum and national historic landmark. There, they can read the poetry scratched onto the walls of the barracks where Asian immigrants were detained.

At today's ceremony, translations of some of them were read by poets, including Janice Mirikitani. Her grandparents came from Japan.

Ms.�JANICE MIRIKITANI (Poet): She yearns for her beloved husband in the picture, yet upon arrival, she sees only the heartless immigration official.

THORSEN: The laws which kept Asians from becoming citizens were repealed decades ago, but Buck Gee of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation says the experience of people like his father is still meaningful.

Mr.�GEE: America has a sort of mixed view of immigrants and new immigrants, you know, both their value and their threat. That's why the issue, you know, is still around today.

THORSEN: For NPR News, I'm Nina Thorsen in San Francisco.

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