The Nichi Bei Foundation, in partnership with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and the National Japanese American Historical Society, will present the Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage Saturday, Oct. 4 10:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Immigration Station at the Angel Island State Park.
The pilgrimage will give attendees the opportunity to rediscover the little-known history of the Japanese and Japanese American legacy at Angel Island, where 85,000 persons of Japanese descent landed between 1910 to 1940, before setting foot in America.
“We wanted to get the Japanese American community reconnected to our legacy with the island, which has become somewhat lost within the larger Chinese immigrant narrative,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation. “We also wanted to recognize key people who ‘rediscovered’ the Immigration Station in the early 1970s, ultimately saving it from certain destruction. We also wanted to provide the community with an opportunity to conduct research into their own family histories.”
Those being recognized are former California Parks Service employee Alexander Weiss, who discovered the Asian-language carvings in the walls, and late San Francisco State University Professor George Araki, who led three early expeditions to the forgotten Immigration Station once informed of it by his student Weiss. “Anyone of Asian descent owes a debt of gratitude to Alexander Weiss and George Araki and others for helping us to reclaim this lost heritage,” Taguma added.
Referred to as “The Ellis Island of the West,” the two islands have their similarities, yet also vast differences, said Grant Din of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.
“The two are similar in that they processed immigrants from around the world. In fact, people from 80 countries spent some time on Angel Island,” said Din. “Where they differ is that while the general atmosphere at Ellis Island was welcoming, with the Statue of Liberty nearby and an average processing time of only a few hours. The situation at Angel Island was much different. It was built in large part to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Acts (in effect from 1882-1943) and then other anti-Asian legislation. Asians had a difficult time immigrating because of so many laws designed to keep them out.”
While the majority of immigrants processed at Angel Island were from China, immigrants from Japan represent the second largest immigrant group to arrive there, with the Japanese having an easier time than Chinese arrivals in terms of the interrogation process and length of stay at Angel Island.
“That was because Japan, by defeating a European power in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, had earned the diplomatic respect of the United States and was thus able to better protect the interests of its citizens abroad,” said Din. “Nevertheless, for those who had to stay on Angel Island for weeks and sometimes even months to undergo medical treatment or appeal decisions to exclude them, their days were full of ‘agony, anguish, and anxiety,’ as expressed in Karl Yoneda’s poems.”
Japanese POWs were also held in the barracks during World War II.
To make the pilgrimage more personally meaningful, volunteers from the California Genealogical Society will guide participants on piecing together their own family histories, using access to ancestry.com and other methods.
The pilgrimage features:
• A ceremony and exhibit on the rediscovery of the Immigration Station
• Guest speaker Judy Yung, co-author of “Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America”
• Presentation on new research on those of Japanese descent — more than 600 from Hawai‘i and nearly 100 from the mainland — who were temporarily detained on Angel Island during World War II en route to Department of Justice internment camps on the mainland.
• site tours
• genealogical research
• storytelling presented by the San Francisco Japanese American Citizens League
• Kid’s Corner
The program runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with the speakers and performance beginning at 12:30 p.m.
For more information and to pre-order ferry/museum packages and bento lunches, visit www.nichibei.org/angel-island-pilgrimage, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 294-4655.
Funding provided by the Wayne Maeda Educational Fund / Nichi Bei Foundation, Lane Hirabayashi/UCLA Asian American Studies, Berkeley JACL, San Francisco JACL and J-Sei.