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New Immigration Museum Opens on Angel Island

A day out in Tiburon is always a good idea, and one of the best reasons to visit lies just offshore from its quaint Main Street. Angel Island State Park is beloved by bikers, hikers, sailors, and campers, but the 700-acre recreational paradise is also home to a part of American history that many visitors and locals don’t know about.

As the principal immigration and deportation point on the West Coast between 1910 to 1940, Angel Island Immigration Station processed roughly 500,000 immigrants from 80 countries, including around 175,000 Chinese and 60,000 Japanese. While the huddled masses of the East Coast were met with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, it was detention and harsh medical examinations in the windswept wooden buildings of Angel Island that greeted many arrivals at the Golden Gate. Their stories are now being told at the station’s 10,000 square-foot hospital, closed since 1945, which has been transformed into the poignant Angel Island Immigration Museum, open for the first time to the public after a $15-million, 12-year restoration.

Built to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted entry of Asian and Pacific Islanders into the USA, the Angel Island Immigration Station is now a designated California and National Historical Landmark with nearly 15 acres to explore, including picnic sites, a beach, outdoor exhibits and the station’s two largest buildings — the Detention Barracks Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Museum (AIIM).

Three permanent exhibits at AIIM include “In the Shadows,” which highlights past and current-day experiences of detention and exclusion; “Under the Microscope,” which dives into the intersection of immigration and public health; and “Opening Doors,” which gives voices immigrants who passed through Angel Island and spotlights immigrant contributions to the United States.

At the Detention Barracks Museum, where immigrants were detained for weeks, months, and even years, visitors can see more than 200 poems carved into the walls by the Chinese detainees that reflect themes of frustration, anger, sadness, and hope.

Temporary presentations will also rotate in and out, including “Lighting the Darkness,” which runs during Asian and Pacific American Heritage month, May 1 — 31, 2022, and will display 140 LED candles in recognition of the 140th anniversary of the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“Especially at a time when we have seen significant anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, the island’s immigration station is a unique place to learn about a dark chapter in our nation’s history and to be inspired by the strength and contributions of immigrants then and now,” said Ed Tepporn, executive director of Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. “Anyone who is an immigrant, of immigrant heritage, or who cares about a friend or family member who is an immigrant will no doubt feel a sense of connection to Angel Island, its histories, and its stories.”

To get to Angel Island, hop on the Golden Gate Ferry from San Francisco or aboard the Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry, helmed by Captain Maggie McDonogh, from downtown Tiburon.

The Angel Island Immigration Museum is open on weekends only. Admission is free. The Barracks Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. There is a small admission fee.

*Before going, check opening hours, arrival info and shuttle schedules, and fees at www.aiisf.org

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