Gateway to Gold Mountain
The Angel Island Immigration
From July through August in 2001, the Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries Building hosted Gateway to Gold Mountain, a traveling exhibition that tells the story of Angel Island. This immigration station in San Francisco Bay was the entry point into the United States for more than 175,000 Chinese immigrants between 1910 and 1940.
July 9 – August 27, 2001
Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building
900 Jefferson Drive, SW
The exhibition was designed by the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, a non-profit organization founded more than 20 years ago by citizens committed to preserving the deteriorating immigration station barracks. Angel Island is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Many Chinese called the new land of opportunity Gam Saan, or Gold Mountain. However, the world they found in the new land was very different from the world they had imagined. This exhibit discussed the hopes and fears of the immigrants, as well as the discrimination they faced trying to gain entry to America.
Visitors walked through a series of vignettes that represented a particular experience at the immigration station. For example, they saw the images of what the immigrants saw upon arrival: the barbed wire fences, guard towers, and locked doors. Processing and questioning of new arrivals took weeks and sometimes months—and, in a number of cases, even years! The despair and isolation felt by the immigrants was revealed in poems they carved into the walls of barracks on Angel Island. Many of the poems were translated for this show.
The exhibition was a tribute to the pioneering spirit of all those who persevered in establishing new roots in the United States and laying the groundwork for later Asian immigrants.