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06 November 2014

A Perfect Pilgrimage: Angel Island

By Linda Harms Okazaki

Linda Harms Okazaki, Katherine Yamada, SCGS genealogist and Grant Din, CGS member & Community Relations Director, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. Photo: Glenn Yamada

Angel Island is beautiful place for a picnic, a picture-perfect location for tourists, hikers, and locals alike. But the real beauty lies in its history. I am a fourth-generation San Franciscan who grew up in Marin County, but it wasn’t until I was an adult, with children of my own, and began my own genealogy that I understood my personal connection to this gem.

You see, from 1910 to 1940, the U.S. Government operated an immigration station on Angel Island where thousands of individuals first set foot in the United States.

My English immigrant and great grandfather, William Ambrose, worked as a night watchman in the Quarantine Station for 11 years. It was during this time period that my husband’s Japanese family members, the Okazakis, were “processed” through the Immigration Station. My children are doubly connected to the island.

Linda Harms Okazaki's Father in law, Terumi Okazaki with Ted Okazaki at Angel Island. Photo: Sharon Harms
On October 4, 2014, the Nichi Bei Foundation, a non-profit media organization serving the Japanese American community, hosted a Japanese American Pilgrimage to Angel Island to honor the 85,000+ Japanese who immigrated through this location, as well as those Japanese ancestors who were detained there during World War II.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi and his wife Sadako with Diana Edwards. Hiroshi is a playwright, author, poet, actor who read a poem about his mother's experience on Angel Island.
The California Genealogical Society, along with several other community organizations, was honored to participate in the planning and execution of this historic event. More than 600 “pilgrims” came by ferry, to the sound of Taiko drums. A handful arrived by boat and kayak. It was wonderful to see old friends reconnect and new friendships made. The event included speeches, entertainment, poetry, community awards, and a Bento (Japanese-style) lunch. I presented to the crowd the family story of the trials and tribulations of the Okazakis’ immigration journey.

L-R: CGS genealogists: Todd Armstrong, Linda Harms Okazaki, Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, Adelle Treakle.
Photo: Jiro Yamamura  
In addition to the formal presentation, the informal activities created a real sense of excitement and discovery for the visitors: exhibits in the original Mess Hall visually displayed a historical overview of the conditions at the Immigration Stations; the Japanese American Museum of San José provided a kids’ corner where participants played games, made buttons, and drew their family trees; and five seasoned CGS genealogists—Todd Armstrong, Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, Adelle Treakle, and I—provided complimentary family history consultations throughout the day to eager and inquisitive attendees. Families learned how to get started on their own research, about understanding census and vital records, as well as exploring records dealing with immigration—such as passenger lists and border crossings—and naturalization. Looking at Internment Camp newspapers from the early 1940s was rewarding for many as it brought to life those harrowing times.

View from barred window inside the Immigration Station. Photo: Melinda Crawford
Thanks to spectacular weather, enthusiastic attendees, and engaged participants, it was truly a moving pilgrimage for all involved. 

Video of the Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage:

Immigrant Voices: Former Park Ranger Andrew Weiss

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.