Island described the general immigration experience by Chinese immigrants in the late 1800’s, but separates them by areas in the process of immigrations, or phases of experience. The most common themes you will find throughout the entire reading will reflect high hopes of this “American Dream,” opportunity to build a dependable living fast, then the Chinese realizing that American inequality pushes fourth poverty, less pay, societal discrimination, segregated opportunity, and political tension driving Chinese out, and ultimately, disappointment for embarking on such a grave trip for such little outcome of it.
In the first section, “The Voyage,” this is where poems reflect these high hopes and great expectations of arrival but are instead invited on a horribly unwelcoming island, Angel island, holding captive thousands of Chinese to process through to allot paperwork to. The conditions are shockingly bad including the facilities and the experience resembled the immigrants as prisoners in a prison-like facility, trapping them. This trap lasted months and months just for immigrants to be interrogated and moved through the process. We see the Chinese observing passing phases of the moon as they long their family, and many regret leaving and not giving more mind to the rational doubts.
“In Detention” dives into the Chinese, imprisoned immigrants expressing immeasurable amounts of sorrow, grief, anger, and passive waiting for their release or hearing as they are all assumed guilty already. The Chinese immigrants imprisoned by the discriminatory foundations, and lack of applicable foudations, but still related to the exclusion laws leads them to describe mistreatment, and the all-consuming boredom growing in the endless isolation due to injustice by who the Chinese refer to as “barbaric Westerners.”
“The Weak Shall Conquer” is an important section as the Chinese reflect on the conflicted power dynamic between their native country and America. The lack of action of China protesting detention of its migrants to America symbolizes it as a weak mother country, and its said that it was taken advantage of by America, subdued in power and financial agreeances. Now, with cultured anger and a taste for revenge, the Chinese pray their dismembered clans, five nationalities, and dynasties back home necessarily unite into a strong nation to obliterate and destroy America, its wooden detention and immigration infrastructures, and the national humiliation it had inflicted on China.
“About Westerners” demonstrates much of the oppression, often during examinations; escaping from invasions and constantly migrating within the states; the cruel mistreatment during imprisonment; and the concern over protecting Chinese descendent ashes. The discussion over examinations went as far to call them “despotic” acts (124). Many Chinese run to escape these examinations and mourn their unhealthy results, often involving hookworm will prevent their hard-experienced destiny in America. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese describe their medical examinations as uncomfortable in the stabbing, prodding, and extraction of worms. The Chinese find this wrong, but feel lost as to who they can report their construed injustice to, especially in their forced billing of treatment. The migrating was from Western invasions on Chinese communities, forcing them to signal the need to relocate. The Americans let the Chinese marinate in their poverty, giving them minimal necessary assistance with food, clothes, social interaction, etc. Upon the death and cremation of Chinese immigrants, it was desired that the dead be respectfully sent home in tradition to prosper in immorality near their kinship, but it seems the dead with only prosper in endless disappointment and sorrow they never reached the opportunity they had envisioned in America.
“Deportees and Transients” depicts the Chinese utter shame and disappointment that they had not successfully fulfilled their long-drawn goals of wealth and were beaten by poverty. In a large majority of these cases, the immigrants were arrested just after arrival and then arrested and turned back around to deportation home. The detainment between their initial arrest and their deportation also commonly lasted long durations of time, up to a couple of years even. These deportees assure their bitterness does not only cause their angriness with the Heavens, but will surely prompt their revenge on America once the country becomes strong again, but until then, they leave advice in the forms of poetry and writing on the walls for latter immigrants: observe the people, collect as many resources as you can to stay afloat, don’t cross the barrier, you may have a better chance at finding work and humane treatment in China, fate and wisdom seem to lack at the border, etc.
Detention in Muk Uk, the immigration process at Ellis Island, although a less popular passageway for Chinese immigrants to pass through, and detention in Victoria, B.C. also translate similar stories of the Chinese failing the “American Dream” of earning wealth at Gold Mountain and instead were reduced to impoverished prisoners by Western, dehumanizing barbarians.