SAN FRANCISCO — Japanese Americans and others from throughout the state and beyond will descend upon a Bay Area island on the first Saturday of October as the Nichi Bei Foundation, in partnership with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and the National Japanese American Historical Society, will present the third Nikkei (Japanese American) Angel Island Pilgrimage on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Immigration Station at the Angel Island State Park.
The pilgrimage gives attendees the opportunity to discover the little-known Japanese and Japanese American legacy at Angel Island, where an estimated 85,000 persons of Japanese descent landed between 1910 to 1940, and took their first steps in America.
“We wanted to get the Japanese American community reconnected to our legacy with the island, which has become somewhat lost within the dominant Chinese immigrant narrative, while honoring our ancestors in this spiritual journey,” said Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation. “We also wanted to highlight key people who helped to maintain the legacy of the Immigration Station, and to provide the community with an opportunity to conduct research into their own family histories.”
Those being recognized this year are San Francisco State University Professor Charles Egan, who translated Angel Island-related poems published in the Nichi Bei Shimbun between 1910 to 1924, and the Miyamoto/Hokoda family, whose ancestor wrote the oldest documented writing in the Immigration Station barracks. Through some research by Egan, the Miyamoto family reunited to see their ancestors’ writing on the wall for the first time last year.
“Professor Egan has researched the poems and other writings on the walls of the Angel Island barracks for many years,” said Grant Din, community relations director at the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. “He has also found poems in the Nichi Bei’s Japanese editions that immigrants wrote about Angel Island during the first part of the 20th century. Egan has also been able to locate descendants of Japanese and Russian immigrants who wrote their names on the barrack walls, and three of these families visited last year.
“The search for the descendants of Masaru Miyamoto, who was on the island in 1912, was made more difficult because Miyamoto had to take the name Hokoda from a neighboring village in order to leave Japan. Egan will tell more about this at the pilgrimage.”
Angel Island is referred to as “The Ellis Island of the West,” and the two islands have their similarities, yet also vast differences. The general atmosphere at Ellis Island in New York was welcoming for the mostly European immigrants, with an average processing time of only a few hours. Asians had a difficult time immigrating at Angel Island, however, because of so many laws designed to keep them out.
This year’s theme is “Family Reunion,” with the goal of getting more families to make an intergenerational pilgrimage to the Immigration Station.
“This year’s pilgrimage is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your family bonds, organize your family get-togethers and call up your relatives for an impromptu reunion, hassle-free,” stated Rosalyn Tonai, executive director of the National Japanese American Historical Society. “The setting at the Angel Island Immigration Station couldn’t be better. There’s great resources at your convenience and you don’t have to even worry about the food, as bento can be pre-ordered. We look forward to providing something for everyone.”
To make the pilgrimage more personally meaningful, volunteers from the California Genealogical Society will guide participants on piecing together their own family histories, using a variety of databases.
“We always hear about Ellis Island, but hardly anything about Angel Island, so this was an eye-opener for many people,” 2015 attendee Lynn Nihei, who learned through a family history consultation during the pilgrimage that both her parents were detained at Angel Island, told The Nichi Bei Weekly. Nihei added that learning about her parents through the consultation was the most memorable part of the pilgrimage for her.
“I think it helps to bring closure to an era that you never knew anything about,” 2015 participant Peggy Okabayashi from Sacramento told The Nichi Bei Weekly about the consultations.
California Genealogical Society President Linda Harms Okazaki said that the consultations are conducted in a way to demonstrate that anyone can do the research themselves. “You can hire a researcher, but it’s so much more rewarding if people can do it themselves,” she told The Nichi Bei Weekly.
• Recognizing San Francisco State University Professor Charles Egan, who translated poems published in the Nichi Bei Shimbun written between 1910 and 1924, and the Miyamoto/Hokoda family, whose ancestor wrote the oldest known writing in the Immigration Station.
• Guest lecture on the Japanese immigrant experience by San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Professor Christen Sasaki, Ph.D.
• Presentation on research on those of Japanese descent — more than 600 from Hawaii and nearly 100 from the mainland — who were temporarily detained on Angel Island during World War II en route to Department of Justice internment camps on the mainland.
• Mini-exhibits on Japanese American history on Angel Island, including the “rediscovery” of the Immigration Station in the early 1970s, and Angel Island during World War II.
• Family history consultations presented by the California Genealogical Society.
• Blessing by the Japanese American Religious Federation, presented by Rev. Debra Low-Skinner of Christ Episcopal Church/Sei Ko Kai.
• Musical performances, storytelling vignettes and children’s activities.
• Japanese bento lunches pre-ordered (optional; orders due Sept. 23).
• Site tours.
The Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage is presented by the Nichi Bei Foundation — publishers of the Nichi Bei Weekly Japanese American community newspaper — in partnership with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and National Japanese American Historical Society. The collaborative effort is also supported by the support from the California State Parks, California Genealogical Society, San Francisco State University Asian American Studies, San Francisco JACL and J-Sei.
Funding provided by the Wayne Maeda Educational Fund/Nichi Bei Foundation. Donations will be gladly accepted to help support student volunteers.
For more information, visit www.nichibei.org/angel-island-pilgrimage.
For questions, email [email protected] or call (415) 294-4655.