Angel Island to commemorate 100th anniversary of Immigration Station


The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) has planned a community celebration on Angel Island on Saturday, July 31. Entitled “Reflections/Renewal: A Tribute to Angel Island Immigrants,” the program will take place from 11 a.m. to noon and focus on the experiences of diverse immigrants who came through the Immigration Station. AIISF also will use the occasion to highlight the new exhibits recently installed at the site, including the “Interrogation Table.”

Angel Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, is a symbol of Pacific immigration. Those who have learned about its history as a West Coast counterpart to the more well known Ellis Island in New York Harbor are familiar with the extensive poetry left behind by Chinese immigrants detained for weeks, months and even years while awaiting admission into the United States.

Not as well known are the many Japanese immigrants who also passed through Angel Island during a difficult time for Asian immigrants, as well as the stories of other Asian arrivals, Russian Jews, and those who traveled across Siberia to escape the Holocaust in countries such as Austria, Germany and Poland. AIISF is documenting many of these stories including the following Japanese detainees.

Japanese detainees’ stories on Angel Island

Longtime activist and retired early childhood educator Chizu Iiyama tells the story of her mother, a picture bride who came through Angel Island in 1914.

“When we took our parents to visit Angel Island, we asked about their experiences when they set foot on this island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. They both shook their heads. Mother spoke of fading memories. ‘It was not pleasant. It was windy and cool. They asked many questions and we had to submit to a physical examination. It was difficult with so many of us stuck here, behind a fence.’ She thought she stayed for a few days, but could not remember the details of her confinement.

“The women were later put in a small boat which took them to a dock in San Francisco. There was excitement in the boat as they spotted some Japanese men waiting at the port. The women took out the pictures of their future mate to see if they could spot them. My mother recalls, ‘Way off, apart from the group was a young man throwing stones into the water. I figure this was going to be my husband. And I knew he was going to be different.’

“Some of the women had difficulty reconciling the photos of the young men they received with the reality of these older men awaiting their arrival. There were two women who adamantly would not leave the boat. Mother added, ‘the men were honorable. Shaking their heads, they grimly paid the return passage for these two women.’ She repeated, ‘They were honorable.’”

Born in Phoenix, Ariz., Dick Jiro Kobashigawa moved to Japan with his family when he was 6 years old. When he was 16, his father sent him back to the U.S. to work and support the family. He spent three weeks at the Angel Island Immigration Station in 1931. His account of life in the detention barracks provides a detailed description of the isolation and anxiety immigrants experienced.

“The food was terrible…the soup was smelly, made from old meat. The rice was steamed but hard. I couldn’t eat.”

Kobashigawa described one of his first memories of Angel Island, when he arrived from Okinawa in 1931 when he was 16. “It was kind of dark by the time I got to Angel Island and they took me to this holding place. They put me with the … illegal immigrants who were waiting for deportation. There were bunk beds, three high … after lunch, we were all outside in the fenced in area behind the building. We were in the sun. That time I met Japanese who were waiting to be deported. I didn’t know anyone there. I couldn’t speak to anyone.”

Kobashigawa said that he was the youngest person in the dormitory. While it was noisy at mealtime, “I had no problem sleeping,” he said.

Kobashigawa benefited from the support of the Japanese deportees he met; they petitioned the immigration officials to let them know that they were holding him by mistake because he clearly was an American citizen. “I was immediately moved to another room. There, I got to eat good food with the officers. I never saw those men again, the ones who helped me, but I am still grateful to them.”

Finally, after three weeks, and with the assistance of the Japanese Salvation Army in San Francisco, Kobashigawa was released from Angel Island. He took a train to Phoenix, where he joined his brother on a farm. Eventually, he moved to San Francisco, where he lives today, and wrote a book about his experiences. His son, Ben, is a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University.

AIISF has also begun research on Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i, many of whom were U.S. citizens, who were rounded up after Pearl Harbor Day. They were held at the Immigration Station before being detained in Department of Justice camps throughout the U.S.

Centennial Campaign and July 31 event information

AIISF has embarked on a Centennial Campaign where people can honor ancestors, regardless of whether or not they came through Angel Island. Proceeds of the campaign will allow more stories of immigrants to be shared both on the island and online.

Speakers at the July 31 Centennial Commemoration will include the following: Danita Rodriguez, Marin District Superintendent of the California State Parks; Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park); U.S. Archivist David S. Ferriero; Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashen; the Rev. Harry Chuck from San Francisco’s Cameron House; Eugenia Bailey, Russian descendant; and Buck Gee, AIISF president.

The program will be held outdoors on the grassy area near the Angel Island bell. Attendees should bring blankets and portable chairs for festival seating. Shakuhachi master musician Masayuki Koga will perform on the program as well as Coastal Miwok singers. At the conclusion of the program, the public is invited to take free, self-guided tours of the detention barracks and grounds as well as enjoy several performances and lectures. There will be a qi gong/tai chi demonstration by the Oakland YMCA group led by instructor Arthur Siu.

Authors Erika Lee and Judy Yung will give the first public presentation of their new book “Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America.” The book is the most comprehensive account of the history of the Immigration Station, and the authors will be signing copies of the book.

There will also be reading by Frances Lee Hall from her young-adult novel, “Paper Son.” Folk singer Kathy Gong-Greene will perform “Songs of a Chinese Family.” Dancers Lenora Lee and Marina Fukushima will perform an excerpt from “Passages,” a multimedia dance piece. The Grace Quan, a replica of a Chinese shrimp boat, will be docked at Ayala Cove and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park will provide interpretation.

The Blue and Gold Fleet and Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry have provided special ferry rates for the event.

For more information about the immigrants’ experiences, the Centennial Campaign, or the special ferry rates, call (415) 262-4429 or visit AIISF’s Website,

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