Friday, September 29, 2017

Boat Ride to Angel Island

Last Sunday was an exquisitely warm, still Northern California autumn day, so on a whim we pretended to be tourists and hopped on a Blue & Gold ferry boat from Fisherman's Wharf to Angel Island.

I had not visited Angel Island, a California state park one mile off the wealthy Marin enclave of Tiburon, since the 1980s, and the place was looking well tended.

We hiked up a set of steep stairs and onto the Perimeter Road where you can walk around the entire island in two to three hours, depending on your speed.

We walked to the U.S. Immigration Station, built in 1905 as a West Coast counterpart to Ellis Island.

As the remarkably honest entry on the California State Parks website states: "Surrounded by public controversy from its inception, the station was finally put into partial operation in 1910. It was designed to process Chinese immigrants whose entry was restricted by the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882. A rush of immigrants from Europe were expected with the opening of the Panama Canal, but international events after 1914, including the outbreak of World War I, cancelled the expected rush, but Asians continued to arrive on the West Coast and to go through immigration procedures...During the next 30 years, this was the point of entry for most of the approximately 175,000 Chinese immigrants who came to the United States. Most of them were detained on Angel Island for as little as two weeks or as much as six months. A few however, were forced to remain on the island for as much as two years."

"Today, most visitors to Angel Island find the Immigration Station a place of reflection. While often called the Ellis Island of the West, the U.S. Immigration Station, was in fact quite different. Arrivals at Ellis Island were welcomed to this country by the near by Statue of Liberty and screened primarily for medical reasons leaving an average of 2-3 hours of arriving. At Angel Island, the objective was to exclude new arrivals, the memories of many returning visitors are therefore bittersweet."

The existing barracks turned into POW camps during World War Two, followed by the military using the island as home for Nike anti-aircraft missiles during the Cold War with Russia. The military finally ceded control to the State of California in 1962 and the place has slowly been turned into a recreational Shangri-La. When I went to the Angel Island Conservancy welcome hut to find a map, Italian opera was playing on the speakers which seemed unusual, until I looked up and saw that the greeter was none other than Chenier Ng above, a friend from Balcony Standing Room at the San Francisco Opera. It felt like serendipity and it was delightful seeing an immigrant as the welcoming concierge after all that ugly history.

We took the last, 4:25 PM ferryboat back to San Francisco.

On the way, we stopped in Sausalito where there were hundreds of people waiting to join us.

Most of them seemed to be tourists who had rented bikes and ridden over the Golden Gate Bridge.

In our current hideous bout of American political nativism, it was refreshing to see visitors from all of the world...

...including tipsy, giggling French women...

...and beautiful young people like the couple above who alternated between stealing kisses and taking selfies with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

4 comments:

Hattie said...

So strange. If you were people like us in those days, we hardly noticed what was going on there.

Rachel said...

Michael, just wanted to let you know- I finally made it to SFMOMA for Munch, Walker Evans and to spend 45 more minutes inside The Visitors.
You were right, the Munch was great!
Thanks for encouraging me to go.

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Rachel: I am so glad you didn't believe your relatives and listened to me instead. Those Munch canvases seem to literally vibrate. And I've spent way too many minutes at The Visitors but have loved every moment, partly just watching how others react, some bewildered, and others immediately put into a trance.

Rachel said...

Michael - yes, totally with you on The Visitors. People were singing along, and some people just camped out and sat down for the whole time. I have to see it again. And yeah, the Munch was really.... It was very good.