It is the idea that the process of urbanizing the Pacific Northwest was a slow and steady process. Solitary pioneers settled into an area, followed by a larger number of farmers, preachers and businessmen. As time progressed this network of people eventually grew from a small town into an urban city. Some historians are finding that this was not always the case; in some cases it is the city that precedes the settlers.
The Chinese immigrants quickly became an integral part of the workforce, being a source of reliable and yet inexpensive labor. Among the many significant contributions to the American economy incorporated the construction and completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad. Unfortunately, as the economy underwent a recession, a job shortage occurred. The availability of Chinese workers was perceived as a threat and was unwelcome d. The growth of anti-immigrant sentiments resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which resulted in subsequent legislation limiting immigration from Asia. The Chinese immigrants came to Angel Island, which lies in the western part of San Francisco Bay and a few miles beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since the mid-1800's, many Asians were determined to seek better lives and economic opportunities in America. California was known as Gum San, or "Gold Mountain." At the Northeastern corner of Angel Island, barracks were set up to operate as an "immigration station" in 1910. One of the main functions of this station was to process hundreds of thousands of people seeking to immigrate to the United States from Asia. The events administered at the immigration station were designed to enforce the exclusionary immigration laws enacted by Congress. The experiences, which Asian immigrants had endured while being processed and "detained" at the immigration station, were of fear, humiliation, and sorrow. Immigrants were confined for a period from two weeks to as long as two years.
Family members were separated from each other, and part of the "process" consisted of intense interrogation by officers. The long wait for decisions caused most detainees tremendous grief and despair, in fact, many took their lives rather than face the humiliation of deportation. Of all the immigrants having to suffer the Angel Island experience, the biggest group was the Chinese with approximately 175, 000 people. Numbers of immigrants from Japan were a close second at over 100, 000.
The immigration station on Angel Island ceased to operate in 1940 as the administration building was shut down because of a fire. The Chinese Exclusion Act was eventually repealed in 1943.