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    Lessons from Angel Island

    philWhen we hear about Ellis Island, we immediately think about an island by New York City that was the stop-gap for immigrants coming from Europe. Yet many in California aren’t familiar with Angel Island, the West Coast equivalent.

    From 1910 to 1940, Angel Island was the site of a U.S. Immigration Station that enforced policies designed to exclude many Pacific Coast immigrants coming from 82 countries, particularly immigrants from China and Japan. After decades of not being used, the site was slated for demolition in 1970 because of its deteriorated condition. Upon the discovery of Chinese poetry carved into the walls of detention barracks, its destruction was halted and interest in preserving the historical nature of these buildings was renewed.

    Immigrant stories are the stories of America, making Angel Island preservation especially important. At a time when we still have candidates from one major political party seeking to round up and exclude immigrants based on ethnicity or religion, the lessons from Angel Island’s history cannot be lost.

    While some people may feel that concentration camps and detention centers are a part of the past, others have readily proposed them as a solution to some of our country’s problems. This should raise concerns among most Americans.  With the world—and our children—watching, I am relieved that my fellow citizens voted against these exclusionary ideas. These events show the need to learn the history of Angel Island so that we may avoid the atrocities of exclusion today.

    Earlier this year, Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) brought me a proposal from the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation where the State of California would partner with the federal government in preserving Angel Island’s rich, but painful, history.

    As Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I was able to secure the funding needed. This year’s state budget includes $2.952 million to help complete a multi-year effort to restore and transform the former Public Service Hospital at the U.S. Immigration Station on Angel Island into a museum and interpretive center about immigrant exclusion.

    We announced the funding last month at the Chinese Historical Society a week before their Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion exhibit opened. The exhibit includes examples of immigrant detention barracks, large-scale photos and images, pamphlets, newspapers, and other important historical documents from the era. It is a great way to learn more about Chinese American history ahead of the restoration of the Angel Island Immigration Station, which should be completed in 2018.

    Preserving the history of Angel Island allows us to send a message that we cannot forget this painful part of our history.    There is a tragic cost of exclusion. We must learn from it so that we can be a better country of immigrants united in our desire for a better life.

    Let’s make sure that we’re breaking barriers, not putting up walls. Let’s make inclusion, and not exclusion, the policy we strive for. Let’s preserve history, and ensure that future generations don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City.