Monday, 17 September 2012 14:38
by Cathy Huang
Hundreds of visitors to Angel Island this past Saturday did more than just explore the Immigration Station and join tours. They filled the spaces between the buildings with stories. On September 8, 2012, the Angel Island Immigration Station hosted Phase II of its Immigrant Heritage Wall dedication. We welcomed hundreds of families from all corners of the United States to celebrate with us as we unveiled a second stretch of plaques engraved with the names of immigrants for whom the island holds special meaning. Phase I of the wall, dedicated in July 2011, proved to be only the start; plaque requests poured in and families excitedly made travel plans for Phase II.
The event, moved to the early afternoon to allow visitors to roam the exhibits and take leisurely picnic lunches on a balmy island day, relied on help from area volunteers, parks staff, and shuttle drivers who transported crowds from the Ayala Cove ferry dock to the Immigration Station. For many attendees, the island outing provided an opportunity for a rare family reunion. Richard Lui, a journalist who flew in from New York to attend the dedication on Saturday, picked up twelve event shuttle tickets at the registration booth for his elderly relatives who had arrived together. Sue Pon of Oakland was joined by her mother who flew in from Los Angeles to commemorate the legacy of Susie Sue Tin, Sue’s grandmother and namesake.
The event opened with a performance by the EGO Korean drummers from UC Berkeley. As attendees heard the rhythmic percussion, they gathered on the grassy knolls facing the fog bell by the bay. Kathy Owyang Turner, the interim director of the Angel Island Immigration Station, gave opening remarks and Danita Rodriguez, Marin District Superintendent of the California State Parks, spoke about how the first Immigrant Heritage Wall has become much more than a donor wall; it helps expand the story of the immigration station to include lives in America. Rodriguez spoke about her own family’s immigration experiences from Europe and Mexico.
Turner welcomed the first speaker, Cheryl Ann Park of Anaheim, California, to the podium. “My grandfather’s story is about a man who wanted a better life for his children,” she began. Kyung Soo Park, US immigrant in 1904, married So See “Anna” Im, a 1914 arrival. Cheryl Ann found pictures of the two, her fraternal grandparents, on a recent visit to the island and has since documented their story. She thanked Angel Island tour guide Peter, who she remembered being “so excited to meet the relatives of the woman in [that] photo.”
Ruthie Holland from Chico, CA, the second guest speaker, is the grand-niece of Katherine Maurer, Methodist deaconess and “Angel of Angel Island”, whose helped thousands of Angel Island detainees. Her acts of kindness included buying families their necessities from the mainland, whether it was a tube of toothpaste or a doll for a daughter, and helping younger detainees remain confident in the face of looming interrogations.
Betty Diamond Jue Dickard traveled from Collierville, TN to speak in her parents’ honor. Daughter of Henry and Edith Jew, who arrived on Angel Island in 1921 and 1938, Betty’s remarks touched on her family’s perseverance and entrepreneurship in the South. The Jew family has claimed numerous community leadership and business titles in their hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Cheryl Ann, Ruthie, and Betty’s stories reaffirm the goals of building on Immigrant Heritage Wall. Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation President Buck Gee reminded the audience they should “continue to tell stories.”
“I’ve come to the Island and seen families enjoy the stories on the wall. [The wall] becomes a part of how we tell their stories. It becomes a part of the Station.” Gee, an Angel Island descendant himself, thanked immigrants to the island for their sacrifices. “If they could see what they started…” he said. AIISF board member Henry Der, senior program officer with the Four Freedoms Fund, closed the program with a reminder that even though the United States opened its shores after a dark period of exclusion, immigration reform is far from complete.
He cited the hundreds of thousands of present-day “detainees”, among them the undocumented immigrants and DREAMers who are incarcerated or endure prolonged juggling through the court systems each year. Der asked: “How have things changed or not changed?”
“Today, we reflect, explore, and debate immigrant detention in the United States. We are here to expand our learning experiences.”
Phase I and II of the Immigrant Heritage Wall contain over 270 plaques recognizing over 800 individuals and families, most of whom were granted permission to remain and build their lives in these United States, and some who were not allowed to stay.
Cathy Huang is a Cyrus Vance Fellow in Politics and Foreign Affairs at Yale University, currently interning at AIISF.