Open The Doors | Korea
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“Reverend David Dae Wei Lee helped many Korean immigrants as a translator and advocate.”

Approximately 1,000 Korean immigrants sought admission to the U.S. through the port of San Francisco between 1910 and 1940, mostly young men claiming to be students, but also picture brides, wives and children of alien residents. They fled a harsh life under Japanese colonial rule by stealing across the northern Korean border into Manchuria, made their way to Shanghai under disguise to avoid the Japanese police, then sailed on steamers to San Francisco. Some worked in Hawaii first, before the harsh conditions on the plantations there made them try their luck in the continental U.S.

“Reverend David Dae Lee Wei Lee provided assistance to many Koran immigrants.”

They had to find a way to pass the test of both the Asian exclusion laws and the general immigration laws before they could be admitted into this country. Between 1910 and 1918, 541 refugee students and 115 picture brides fled Korea for America by way of Manchuria, Shanghai, or Europe. They claimed they were not Japanese subjects because they had left Korea before annexation in 1910. They had to overcome laws and executive orders making it difficult for them to come to America.


Reverend David Dae Wei Lee provided assistance to many Korean immigrants, serving as a translator and advocate. He was also a leader in the Korean National Association. Immigration was largely curtailed after 1917 when the U.S. secretaries of state and labor issued a joint order that required that all entering aliens carry passports visaed by a U.S. consul. Because Japan would not issue passports to Koreans, immigration from Korea essentially stopped.


After restrictive immigration legislation in 1924 essentially excluded Asians from immigrating to America, some students still managed to come to the U.S. through a provision in the law. About 300 Koreans were able to come through Angel Island to study in American colleges.


AIISF has several stories about Korean immigrants on Angel Island including Rose Park, the child pictured above with her mother Anna So Sim and her stepsister Wanda Kyong Park. They were immigrating to join Anna’s husband Kyung Soo Park, who was a farmer in Mountain Home, Idaho.


Visit our Immigrant Voices website at to learn more and to share your stories.


Information provided by Erika Lee and Judy Yung in Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, published 2010 by the Oxford University Press.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]