From 1910 to 1940, Angel Island (in the San Francisco Bay) processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming into the US. My grandfather was probably one of them.
Often called the Ellis Island of the West, Angel Island was differed from its eastern counterpart in many ways. At Ellis Island, processing took a few hours; on Angel Island it could take weeks or even years (i.e., detainment). At Ellis Island almost everyone (98-99%) was approved for entry to the US (~1-2% denied); at Angel Island around a quarter (18-25%) were denied entry.
Why the disparity? Ellis Island–in New York Harbor–saw large numbers of European immigrants; Angel Island saw mostly Asian immigrants. The US Government did not want Asian people here, so they made the process hard and grueling.
And now America is reviving its past. Make no mistake–thousands of white children (from Canada or England, perhaps) would not be taken from their parents, even if their parents didn’t have proper visas.
Because this isn’t just about immigration. This is about racial “purity.” This is about the same cruelty that last century led to eugenics in California and Nazism in Germany.
I am grateful that my father raised me to know that the (mis)treatment of black people, of indigenous peoples, of Chinese Americans, of Japanese Americans, and many other groups were interconnected. It’s not only the struggles that are shared–xenophobia, racism, lynchings, economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement–but also the ways oppression targets specific groups (racialized slavery, reservations and Indian schools, internment).
The history my schools gave me did not mention the intersections or the solidarity between movements. Perhaps that’s why I was surprised to learn about Yuri Kochiyama and her friendship with Malcolm X.
As I work to be more involved in our current movements, I look back for role models and guidance. For that I appreciate Yuri Kochiyama–an Asian American ancestor who was also pro-black and much more.
On May 4 as I was driving home from work, I started crying. KQED 88.5 FM was playing a short segment on a Chinese restaurant. But it wasn’t any Chinese restaurant. It was Frank Fat’s, and they were talking about the banana cream pies I had grown up eating when I visited my grandma. They were talking about Chinese Americans in Sacramento, the same Sacramento my dad grew up in. They were talking–it felt like–about me.
I don’t remember any other time I’ve listened to the radio and felt so seen.
This article, “Can You Appropriate Your Own Culture?” by Jaya Saxena, described experiences I’ve had but didn’t have words for. Does being white negate my Chinese experience? If I express my Chinese heritage, can it become appropriation?
One passage captured the endless internal questioning I experience:
Nobody has a solution. Every time I wear Indian jewelry or clothing, I know there are people who will see me as Indian, people who will see me as wearing something I shouldn’t, and people who will say that even though I have Indian heritage, I’m treated differently for wearing a sari than someone who is “really Indian.” These things are all true, and they all exist at the same time.
These are all true, and they all exist at the same time. Perhaps along with the various layers of perception there are also multiple layers of identity: half, full, and something else entirely–all at the same time.
The Amah Mutsun people are fighting to save a sacred site, Juristac. As someone who grew up near this site, I hope to see my community stand in solidarity with our native relatives. I had the honor of hearing Chairman Lopez speak on Friday, and I’m in awe of his deep wisdom and passion.
Fortunately, there is also a video sharing the message:
“The destruction and domination of California Indians has never ended. It continues to this day.
But from that time to the current, it has always been our goal to protect and preserve that–and to return to Juristac so we can restore our ceremonies and restore our spiriutality and our culture and the environment there.
And make it holy and sacred once again.”
-Valentin Lopez, Chairman of Amah Mutsun Tribal Band
Why do first-hand, personal accounts resonate differently than generalized history? I’m not sure, but Zora Neale Hurston’s interview with former slave Kossula is one of those deeply resonate personal accounts.
“I want to know who you are and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?”
His head was bowed for a time. Then he lifted his wet face: “Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody dere say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’ ”
This and more highlighted in Vulture; the Hurston’s full account in Barraccoon.
I don’t remember any live action movies growing up that featured someone like me. And now here comes A Wrinkle In Time with a mixed race protagonist and a diverse cast and crew.
Overall, it is a children’s story very much aimed at the 8-12 demographic. Despite being beautifully shot and infused with Oprah, the film is not intended for me. But as I watched it, somewhere–within a mildly entertained adult–was a younger version of myself finally feeling validated and represented in a genre I love.
One day I’ll be able to show this movie to my kids and say, “See, families like ours and children like you exist. And they get to have every bit as magical and heroic of adventures as anyone else.”
I am so grateful for this film and for director Ava DuVernay, whose other works include 13th, Venus Vs, and Selma. In her own words, “Civil rights work and social justice work take imagination, to imagine a world that isn’t there, and you imagine that it can be there. And that’s the same thing that you do whenever you imagine and insert yourself in a future space, or in a space where you’ve been absent.”
Thanks to this movie, there’s at least one imagined world made real, at least one absence turned into presence, and at least one mixed kid feeling happy.