Today, January 21st is National Angel Island Day.
On this day, we take time to remember the stories, events, and people from the Immigration Station’s 111-year history.
The light of San Francisco
is a sea light
an island light
— from The Changing Light, by LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring January 21st as National Angel Island Day.
“From the cities, villages, and farms of their birth, they journeyed across the Pacific, seeking better lives for themselves and their children. Many arrived at Angel Island, weary but hopeful, only to be unjustly confined for months or, in some cases, years. As we remember their struggle, we honor all who have been drawn to America by dreams of limitless opportunity.
Unlike immigrants who marveled at the Statue of Liberty upon arrival at Ellis Island, those who came to Angel Island were greeted by an intake facility that was sometimes called the “Guardian of the Western Gate.” Racially prejudiced immigration laws of the time subjected many to rigorous exams and interrogations, as well as detention in crowded, unsanitary barracks. Some expressed themselves by carving poetry and inscriptions into the walls in their native language — from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to Russian, German, and Urdu. These etchings remain on Angel Island today as poignant reminders of the immigrant experience and an unjust time in our history.
If there is any vindication for the Angel Island immigrants who endured so many hardships, it is the success achieved by those who were allowed entry, and the many who, at long last, gained citizenship. They have contributed immeasurably to our Nation as leaders in every sector of American life. The children of Angel Island have seized the opportunities their ancestors saw from across an ocean. By demonstrating that all things are possible in America, this vibrant community has created a beacon of hope for future generations of immigrants.”
The History That We Stand On, and The Future We Stand For
On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the sixth and youngest poet, at age twenty-two, to deliver a poetry reading at a presidential inauguration. She was invited to write a poem inspired by the theme, “America United.” Amanda wanted to write about a new chapter in our country, while acknowledging the dark chapter in American history that we are living through. “Now more than ever, the United States needs an inaugural poem,” Gorman said. “Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
— from The Hill We Climb, by AMANDA GORMAN
In response to the Inauguration Day, poet Flo Oy Wong wrote this new poem, inspired by Amanda Gorman, America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, and Kamala Harris, the first woman, as well as the first African American and first Asian American, to serve as Vice President of the United States. Kamala means “lotus flower” in Sanskrit.
As a Petal of Hope Takes Shape
In brackish water, hope emerges
from a cracked seed like the lotus.
In search of light, hope wends itself,
stretches towards illumination,
waits to dance with dreams.
As a petal of hope takes shape
it tastes like delectable kindness.
It smells sweet like heartfelt compassion.
It feels like golden silk stitched
to goodness of humankind.
FLO OY WONG, January 5 – 19, 2021
The world premiere performance of Huang Ruo’s “Your Wall is Our Canvas: The Angel Island” with The Del Sol String Quartet is currently planned for October 2021 on Angel Island.