by Lia Dun
“Angel Island: The Chinese-American Experience” is a graphic novel that seeks to make the experience of Chinese immigrants detained on Angel Island accessible to middle school students. The teaching aide was developed by the Stanford Program on International and Cross-cultural Education, which develops multidisciplinary curriculum for K-14 students on international themes, as part of a unit on the Chinese American experience. The graphic novel follows the story of a group of Chinese immigrants as they pass through Angel Island and describes the different aspects of life on Angel Island—the grueling interrogations, men being separated from women, medical inspections, and the often despairing poems carved on the barrack walls.
Including a student handout before the actual graphic novel starts that explains historical background like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the graphic novel does a thorough job of illustrating and contextualizing experiences of detainees. It also makes an effort to keep from sugarcoating history—in one instance, a boy is allowed to leave Angel Island but his mother is sent home, and at the end, the graphic novel notes that for many Chinese Americans, even after being released from Angel Island, institutionalized racism made their future uncertain. “Angel Island: The Chinese-American Experience” provides students with a concise introduction to a period of United States otherwise overlooked in secondary school history courses.
“Angel Island: The Chinese American Experience” can be purchased from the Stanford Program on International and Cross-cultural Education website http://spice.stanford.edu/catalog/.
Lia Dun is a Yale University student and intern at AIISF.