Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage Set for Oct. 3

September 30, 2015 • Community, News

SAN FRANCISCO — Japanese Americans from throughout the state and beyond will descend upon a Bay Area island this Saturday as the Nichi Bei Foundation, in partnership with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and the National Japanese American Historical Society, will present the second Nikkei (Japanese American) Angel Island Pilgrimage on Saturday, Oct. 3, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Immigration Station at the Angel Island State Park.

The pilgrimage gives attendees the opportunity to discover the little-known Japanese and Japanese American legacy at Angel Island, where 85,000 persons of Japanese descent landed between 1910 to 1940, before setting foot in America.

“We wanted to get the Japanese American community reconnected to our legacy with the island, which has become somewhat lost within the dominant Chinese immigrant narrative,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation. “We also wanted to give long-overdue recognition to key people who helped in the early preservation of the Immigration Station, and to provide the community with an opportunity to conduct research into their own family histories.”

Those being recognized are former leaders of the Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee, Christopher Chow and Paul Chow. “While last year we honored those who ‘rediscovered’ the Immigration Station in the early 1970s — including then-California Parks Service employee Alexander Weiss, then-San Francisco State University Professor George Araki and photographer Mak Takahashi — this year, we wanted to recognize those who took up the ever-important issue of advocating for its preservation.”

“The early work of people like Chris Chow and Paul Chow was crucial in saving the Immigration Station,” said Grant Din, community relations director of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. “When Chris headed up the Ad-Hoc Committee to Save the Angel Island Detention Center, its members had to stop the State Parks’ master plan for the site to tear down the station for recreational uses. They got State Assemblyman John Foran from San Francisco to establish an advisory committee to make recommendations on how the state could best preserve the station.

“Foran asked Paul Chow, a civil engineer with the state Department of Transportation and active member of the Chinese American Democratic Club, to help put the committee, later known as the Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee, together,” Din added. “As the son of an Angel Island detainee, Paul Chow realized how restoring the barracks could help legitimize the Chinese who had been degraded by American society. Paul and Chris were tireless advocates and with their colleagues like Connie Young Yu, Phil Choy, Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim and Judy Yung, did the research and advocacy work that was so crucial to preserving the Immigration Station for future generations.”

Referred to as “The Ellis Island of the West,” the two islands have their similarities, yet also vast differences. The general atmosphere at Ellis Island in New York was welcoming for the mostly European immigrants, with an average processing time of only a few hours. Asians had a difficult time immigrating at Angel Island, however, because of so many laws designed to keep them out.

To make the pilgrimage more personally meaningful, volunteers from the California Genealogical Society will guide participants on piecing together their own family histories, using a variety of databases.

The pilgrimage features:

  • A recognition of those who helped to preserve the Immigration Station, Christopher Chow and Paul Chow of the Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee;
  • Guest speaker on “Nikkei History at Angel Island”: Professor Ben Kobashigawa, San Francisco State University Ethnic Studies;
  • A presentation by Karen Korematsu, daughter of civil rights icon Fred Korematsu, on her grandmother, a picture bride;
  • Presentation on new research on those of Japanese descent — more than 600 from Hawai‘i and nearly 100 from the mainland — who were temporarily detained on Angel Island during World War II en route to Department of Justice internment camps on the mainland;
  • Mini-exhibits on Japanese American history on Angel Island, including the “rediscovery” of the Immigration Station in the early 1970s, and Angel Island during World War II;
  • Family History Workstations presented by the California Genealogical Society;
  • Storytelling presented by the San Francisco Japanese American Citizens League on the Japanese picture bride experience;
  • Musical performances; and
  • Site tours

The program runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the speakers and performance beginning at 11 a.m.

For more information, visit www.nichibei.org/angel-island-pilgrimage, e-mail programs@nichibeifoundation.org or call (415) 294-4655.

Funding provided by the Wayne Maeda Educational Fund / Nichi Bei Foundation and the San Francisco JACL.

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