Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Haley Reen
Somehow, Angel Island is the lesser-known stepsister to Alcatraz, although it is larger, vastly more beautiful, and with a more important historical background. Take the ferry there from Tiburon or San Francisco’s Pier 41, a half-hour trip through one of the world’s most photographed bays.
Upon arrival on the island, you can visit the Immigration Station which was in use from 1910 to 1940. It’s hard to believe this 750-acre island was once the main immigration station for the west coast, our own version of Ellis Island. The site provides an important opportunity to talk to kids about racism. Immigrants from Japan and China faced discrimination on the island. Expecting a quick examination aboard ship and entrance into San Francisco, many were ferried to Angel Island and detained for weeks or even months until being allowed to officially enter the United States. Some were deported back to their point of origin. As many as 175,000 Chinese and 65,000 Japanese were held in unpleasant barracks during the thirty years of operation, while immigrants of European countries were permitted instant entry. These policies were a holdover from the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
This sobering history contrasts with the incredible beauty of the island and its views. Bring your own bike or rent one on the island. It will take about an hour to bike around the island (several hills are steep). You can also take a wheelchair accessible tram, which is open-air, seats 50 maximum and has recorded narration in five different languages.
Brave and well-balanced? Take a six-mile guided Segway tour.
If you choose to stay longer, there are 11 campsites on the island, hiking or biking distance from the ferry.
Pack a picnic or eat at the Angel Island Café, with outdoor seating and often live music at the cantina. This is no hot dogs and chicken nuggets eatery; adults can have a $14 cubano with their glass of wine. But no fear: there is a child’s menu with a $9 cheese pizza and other options. You can preorder a box lunch for pickup as you get off the ferry.
The island’s history includes more than just the immigration station. A Cold War Nike Missile site was installed and almost immediately decommissioned, the island contains a Civil War artillery battery, it served as a transit station for soldiers of the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II, and WWII prisoners of war were even held here. It was also a quarantine station when San Francisco had its Bubonic Plague scare in the early 1890s.
And of course, the first Miwok inhabitants enjoyed the island for thousands of years, coming from what is now Marin County in tule canoes. They fished and hunted on the island and set up temporary shelters made of branches covered by tule mats. According to the Angel Island Conservancy, “Several middens (refuse piles) have produced bones, shell money from clams, abalone jewelry, skins, snail shell beads, mortar and pestles, wreckage from ships, and redwood driftwood from crematoriums. Obsidian points used in arrows were common.” This website contains a lot of fantastic information about Miwok life in the area, including a brief 1579 description of the Miwoks from a passenger aboard the Sir Francis Drake: http://angelisland.org/history/miwok-history/
Whether rooted in history or reveling in the stellar vistas buffeted by bay winds, your visit will be a memorable part of summer vacation.
Visit http://angelisland.org for all the information on how to get to the island (you can also use a private boat) and what to do when there. The immigration station is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.