by Judy Yung
Nick Friesen, a former Angel Island detainee who I had the good fortune to interview in 2008, died of a massive stroke on January 4, 2011. I was told that he had purchased a three-wheel bike at a thrift store in Reedley, California, and was riding it home when he had the stroke. He was 97 years old. I thought to myself, that’s so like Nick—active and on the move to the very end.
Nick Friesen and film maker Jeff Chin at AIISF 2009
Annual Gala event.
Nick’s family were Dutch Mennonites who had migrated from Prussia to Ukraine to farm at the invitation of Catherine the Great in 1789. When the Mennonites came under attack during the Russo-Japanese War, the Friesens moved to Siberia, where they became successful wheat farmers. But they lost everything when Stalin came to power. In search of freedom and a better livelihood, they stole across the frozen Amur River into Manchuria. They waited eight months in Harbin for visas before sailing to America on the Tenyo Maru in 1929.
Mary and Nick Friesen with Eddie Fung and Judy Yung
at a book talk in Fresno on November 6, 2010.
Every five years since 1980, Nick faithfully attended the “Harbiners reunion” to commemorate their deliverance from Soviet tyranny. He was one of the ribbon cutters at the Grand Re-opening of the Angel Island Immigration Station on February 15, 2009. When asked what Angel Island meant to him, Nick replied, “The Angel Island Immigration Station played an important part in our coming to America. We were so happy to finally be in the United States, Angel Island represents freedom and nothing but happy memories for me.”
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement