‘Angel Island’ by Bonnie Quan Symons2 min read

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… I thought I could land in a few days.
How was I to know I would become
a prisoner of suffering in the wooden building?
…I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon,
thus sparing me this additional sorrow here.

The detention barracks were over full—
three-tiered bunk beds,
one hundred people to a one thousand square foot hall.

The insects chirp outside the four walls
The inmates often sigh
Thinking of affairs back home,
Unconscious tears wet my lapel.

In room 105, at the Immigration Station,
poems carved by Chinese immigrants
remain on the beige, century-old, worn wooden walls:

Over a hundred poems are on the walls,
looking at them, they are all pining at the delayed progress.
What can one sad person say to another?

The Russians and Japanese stayed only two to three days.
For weeks, months or years, the Chinese were detained,
interrogated by authorities. They could only stay in America
if correct responses were stated.

The months and years are wasted and still
it has not ended.
Up to now, I am still trapped on a lonely island.

Laminated head tax certificates, in rows,
displayed for tourists to view.

Were my grandfathers detained there, too?

Author’s note:

On a visit to Angel Island, I viewed the poetry etched on the inside walls of their Immigration Station. These poems were translated and are published in Lai, Him Mark; Lim, Genny, and Yung, Judy: Island, Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, University of Washington Press, 1980, pp. 38, 54, 62.


Bonnie Quan Symons’ poems have been published in Canada (Vancouver Courier), United States (Four and Twenty, Resurrectionist Review and Kind of a Hurricane Press), and Australia (Skive Magazine). She is a member of Pandora’s Collective and Writers’ International Network. She works at BC Teachers’ Federation and lives in Vancouver.

Featured Image via Shutterstock

1 comment

Sandra Mark 17 February, 2019 - 3:21 am

This was a very good deed to get a collection of Angel Island writings by Asian immigrants. Strange they detained Asian longer than other immigrants. Ex. Japanese


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