Island edited by Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung provided us with a collection of poems written by Chinese immigrants on their journey, specifically the experiences tied to being held in the detention center on Angel Island. Some of these poems were found on mostly the walls of the barracks of the detention center, the writings were preserved accidentally and found by a park ranger and then studied and transcribed by historians. Other poems had been transcribed and preserved by other immigrants including Smiley Jann and Tet Yee. The poems are divided into five sections, entitled “The Voyage” “In Detention” “The Weak Shall Conquer” “About Westerners” and “Deportees and Transients” throughout these common themes that repeatedly occur in these poems. These include the hopefulness felt by the immigrants as they began their journeys which quickly became replaced by hopelessness, loneliness, and eventually anger.
In the first section “The Voyage” we first gain a sense of the hardships of the journey stating that it was “misery on the ship” (6) and that the cramped conditions were not easy on the passengers. The immigrants were hopeful that the journey would be worth it when they arrived in America but quickly was replaced by discontent, poem 7 is the first to mention that “the Barbarians abuse is really hard to take” this poem goes on to state that when leaving China they did not know they would be met by becoming a prisoner. These immigrants came to America in search of wealth and prosperity but were met by abuse and imprisonment. The writer of poem 9 was the first to mention that they desired to go back to China. The poems also mention the stress that leaving China placed on their relationships, that they had left their friends and family and it was difficult to connect with the other prisoners in the detention center.
In the section entitled “In Detention” we read about the conditions faced in the detention centers and the emotions felt by those held in these centers. Throughout many poems feelings of sadness emerge repeatedly, “sadness kills” (22), “embarrassed” (25), “tears wet my lapel” (26), and “my chest filled with sadness” (30). Eventually, the writers of these poems seem to begin to criticize America stating that “America has power but not justice” (33) this marks a shift in the poems presented from sadness and hopelessness to anger. The writers of the poems go on to mention influential people and figures in China who faced adversity prior to becoming heroes (38), and feelings of self-awakening (39) which provide hope. This brings readers into the next section entitled “The Weak Shall Conquer” which emphasized the number of poems written stating revenge would come eventually. Mentioned several times was the idea that at that time China had been struggling but once stable again they would seek revenge even stating that “China will bomb America” (86) this marked a shift in feelings of defeat to anger.
Throughout the reading and especially in the section “About Westerners” the authors of these poems imply that the police, guards, and even doctors at corrupt and unjust. As mentioned before they called them “barbarians” which we see repeatedly throughout this section writing about the poor conditions and abuse faced here. In poems 94 and 95 it is implied that there are accusations of medical malpractice from the doctors here stating that they would treat them improperly. Those that were denied entry to America began to come up at the end of this section and were referred to as the “unworthy ones” but are focused on int he next section “Deportees and Transients” who are written by the imprisoned that were not allowed into the United States. The feelings of hopefulness turning to disappointment and eventually anger, stating that they faced these hardships for their “goal to remain unfulfilled” (114). They wrote of the dread to return to “Weak China” and write about their lack of freedom around the world, then feelings of anger emerge stating “I swear we will cut off the heads of the barbarian”(118). It was clear that through the hardships faced in these detention centers these individuals began to resent the United States when they faced the hardships faced in these detention centers, but mostly remained hopeful of a better life in America but feelings of regret and missing of China did emerge at times.