In this weeks reading titled Island Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island we read and learn about the lives of Chinese immigrants making their journey to the United States in the early 1900s. In the beginning of the novel we get a historical introduction to the times and what was going on in both China and the United States at the time. The country of China was dealing and going through issues such as famine, many were impoverished, there was internal conflicts within different groups of Chinese, there were also conflicts with external forces such as countries like Japan. All of these were push factors for many Chinese to find money, whether raised or borrowed, to get on a boat across the Pacific Ocean. In the United States on the other hand, specifically on the west coast where the Chinese immigrants would arrive, there was word of a gold rush in California. This was most certainly a pull for said Chinese immigrants to travel across the vast ocean in search of wealth and a better life. However, we know that unfortunately for many Chinese that was not as easily achievable as was thought to be. While Chinese immigration to the United States increased so did the blatant racism towards the immigrants. Upon arrival they were to come in through Angel Island and wait there in the so called “wooden building” for permission by the United States government to enter. Many were denied entry due to occupation, health status, etc. and were deported.
While reading the poems that were left inscribed on the walls of the wooden building we can see prevalent themes and emotions that were shared amongst the Chinese immigrants. We learn that many of these immigrants were in fact impoverished and gave up everything to make the journey. Many expressed feeling sad and even stated they would cry upon being stuck on Angel Island for so long waiting to see if they were to be given entry or not. They reported not being treated well by the barbarians, the Americans. The Chinese were regularly checked for disease such as Hookworm by doctors who would stab them in the ear and give them liquid to dispel the disease. Many expressed anger, stating they could not wait for the day when they themselves could rise up against the barbarians. Some other common themes were the act of looking or praying to the Blue Heaven, wishing China’s history and current situation was different, and travelling back home or to different countries instead. Truly this novel is an emotional and informative read that really captures the sentiments on Chinese immigration in the early 1900s.