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Friday, March 1, 2013

Angel Island: The Experience and Virtual Tour


Until recently, I did not know anything about Angel Island and its role in the immigration story of the United States. After reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See I learned a lot about the experience at Angel Island and wanted to know more and to share some of it with you.

angel island

Angel Island served as the initial stopping point for immigrants who wanted to enter the US from the west. The Immigration Center was active from 1910 to 1940. The experience there was much different than that at Ellis Island in New York. Angel Island’s purpose was to determine those who were coming under legal reasons and deport those back to their country of origin who could not answer the interview questions adequately.


Upon arriving at Angel Island the immigrants would be subjected to a series of interviews where they would need to correctly answer ever increasingly obscure questions about their families and hometowns. Their answers would be compared with others who had come over with them or who had come over previously and look for discrepancies. You can watch this video I have included below which shows a recent recreation of a couple of these immigration interviews. It is quite long but you can watch a portion to get an idea of how ridiculous these interviews would have been. I don’t think I could have passed these interviews myself.

Reenactment of a series of Angel Island Interrogations

While waiting to pass the interview process the immigrants would have to stay in the dormitories – sometimes for as little as a week, or sometimes for as much as a year. These were not the most comfortable arrangements. In the video below you can take a tour of the dormitories as they would have been during the active years of Angel Island.

Virtual Tour of Angel Island Immigration Station and Museum

If you happen to be traveling to the San Francisco area or live in that area, you can visit Angel Island today. It has a great number of opportunities for hiking, biking etc as well as a little historical tour. The Immigration Station now houses a museum. The museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3 and is $5 admission for adults and $3 for youths. There are 1 hour lecture tours available for an additional $7. You can learn more about the state park here.

Most people who know of Angel Island know of it as the immigration center – but it had a history both before and after that period. It served as a military center, a quarantine station, camp for prisoners during WWII, and as a state park. Here is a timeline of Angel Island history.

If you want to hear first-hand stories of the Angel Island experience you can read or listen to some of these interviews.

Or if you are looking for some reading recommendations, check out some of these:

  • Barde, Robert Eric. Immigration at the Golden Gate: Passenger Ships, Exclusion, and Angel Island. Westport: Praeger, 2008.
  • Fanning, Bramwell and Wong, William. Images of America: Angel Island. Arcadia Publishers, 2007.
  • Lee, Erika and Judy Yung. Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Or you can get a more complete listing here.

Have any of you been here before? Do you know anyone that had to pass through Angel Island to immigrate here?


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I haven't been to Angel Island but saw it while on a cruise of San Francisco Bay about 10 years ago. Thanks for your post and pics! I enjoyed Shanghai Girls as well.

    1. I feel like Angel Island is the lesser know of the San Francisco islands - glad you had the chance to see it - albeit from afar!

  2. I live in the Bay Area, and Angel Island is a favorite spot of mine. Beautiful views and rich history--what more could you want on a Sunday afternoon? Thanks for the post and the references!

    1. I can imagine that the view is beautiful. It would certainly be a place that I would visit often if I liked in the area.

  3. I always enjoy your historical posts Heather.
    It never ceases to amaze me what people go through to get to our country.

    1. Thanks Jenny! I recently noticed that I had begun to stray away from them for awhile (probably due to the amount of work needed to go into them and the fact that school was taking up so much of my time). But I'm really trying to get back to doing them, because I love them too!

    2. Believe me I know how much these posts take and school on top of it...school comes first :)


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