A photograph of a Chinese poem carved into an Angel Island dormitory wall by a detainee.
This photograph shows a segment of a Chinese poem carved into a dormitory wall. Unlike their counterparts at Ellis Island who were usually granted entry to the United States after several hours, immigrants processed through Angel Island waited weeks, months, and sometimes years to enter the US. Most of that time waiting was spent in the dormitories where Chinese immigrants carved poetry into the walls. These poems communicate the sadness, loneliness, frustration, and hope detainees felt as they waited to enter the United States and begin their new lives.
Rediscovered in 1970 by a California state park ranger, the poems were one of the factors that helped save the buildings from demolition. The poems are still visible on the dormitory walls, as seen in this 2003 photograph, and more than 200 poems have been preserved. One poem (not pictured) reads, “With a hundred kinds of oppressive laws, they mistreat us Chinese. / It is still not enough after being interrogated and investigated several times; / We also have to have our chests examined while naked.”