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Richie's Picks: ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD MOUNTAIN

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  • whenyoureachme34
    Richie s Picks: ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD MOUNTAIN by Russell Freedman, Clarion, October 2013, 96p., ISBN: 978-0-547-90378-1 It is said that these
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 11, 2013
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      Richie's Picks: ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD MOUNTAIN by Russell Freedman, Clarion, October 2013, 96p., ISBN: 978-0-547-90378-1
       
      "It is said that these Chinese are entitled while they remain to the safeguards of the Constitution and to the protection of the laws in regard to their rights of person and of property, but that they continue to be aliens, subject to the absolute power of Congress to forcibly remove them.  In other words, the guaranties of 'life, liberty, and property' named in the Constitution, are theirs by sufferance, and not of right.  Of what avail are such guaranties?...
      "In view of this enactment by the highest legislative body of the foremost Christian nation, may not the thoughtful Chinese disciple of Confucius fairly ask, 'Why do they send missionaries here?'"
      -- from the 1893 dissenting opinion of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice David Brewer in Fong Yue Ting v. United States et al. Wong Quan v. United States et al. Lee Joe v. United States et al., in which the majority of the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Geary Act of 1892 (Retrieved from http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/149/698/case.html)
       
      The Geary Act, as explained here by Russell Freedman,
       
      "required all persons of Chinese descent, including native-born citizens, to carry photo identification cards proving their lawful presence in the United States.  At the time, no other group was required to hold such documents."
       
      That the Fong Yue Ting decision was handed down just three years prior to the Court's infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision, has me suspecting that the late nineteenth century was a pretty lousy time to be anything but a white Christian male if you found yourself in America.
       
      And, yet, the willingness of the American Library Association's 1961 Newbery award committee to honor the Chinese stereotype-laden children's book, A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE (insuring the perpetuation of these stereotypes and prejudice through, yet, another generation thanks to all the teachers across the country who then read the ALA-blessed CRICKET to their elementary students), tells me that widespread acceptance of American anti-Chinese sentiment was not a passing fad, but was -- and many might argue, still is -- deeply entrenched.  (Somewhere along the way, in later editions, the most egregious language in CRICKET was edited out.)
       
      Wait!  I thought this was a book about Angel Island? 
       
      And that it is.  I learned from Freedman's ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD MOUNTAIN that the infamous immigration station on Angel Island, more than anything, was an important tool in decades-long, government-sanctioned, xenophobic legislating against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans trying to come home.  That immigration station was built upon decades of prejudice:
       
      "Politicians...were demanding that Chinese immigrants be excluded from the United States.  The Chinese were undesirable aliens, they charged, willing to take on any type of work and to work for longer hours for less pay -- depriving whites of jobs.  At a California Senate committee hearing in 1876, Chinese immigration was described as an 'unarmed invasion' that threatened the entire country.  The rallying cry of the Workingmen's Party of California was 'The Chinese Must Go!'" 
       
      (Doesn't that sound an awful lot like certain contemporary politicians and media darlings ranting about Hispanic immigrants and Hispanic Americans?)
       
      Here in California, ANGEL ISLAND: GATEWAY TO GOLD MOUNTAIN will be a welcome and important addition to the trade literature available to help teach California history.  Freedman first walks readers through all of the atrocities perpetuated against the Chinese -- by mobs and through legislation --beginning in the 1800s, so that when he proceeds to detail what Angel Island's Immigration Station was all about, we understand why the system there was set up as it was. 
       
      We teach California history in fourth grade.  Consistent with that fourth grade audience, this book is -- in relation to Freedman's typical authorship -- a relatively shorter book with relatively larger text and plenty of photos.  It will be readily accessible to that fourth grade audience and will also serve quite notably as a great introduction for older readers who, like me, will likely finish it wanting to know more about all sorts of interrelated issues and events that Freedman introduces.
       
      It has now been five years since I rode the ferry from Tiburon over to Angel Island and wandered the trails around what is one heck of a beautiful place.  Last time, it was the summer before the Immigration Station was opened as a museum.  Now, understanding the significance of that facility, I'll be heading down there in the near future for another visit.
       
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