Within an evocative recreation of an immigration station, the exhibit examines the experience and enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act as well as efforts to oppose exclusion and unequal treatment. This section also shows that many of the practices and principles developed under the umbrella of Chinese Exclusion were later applied to other groups and became standard elements of America’s immigration system.

Certificate of identity, 1914. National Archives at San Francisco.

Certificate of identity, 1914. National Archives at San Francisco.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. It required that all Chinese entering or re-entering the country had to prove their identity and eligibility or risk being denied entry. Such high stakes encounters occurred daily at places like Angel Island in San Francisco Bay (1910-1940). Despite Exclusion, Chinese continued to seek entry to the United States. Identity documents first came into widespread use in the US with efforts to enforce Chinese Exclusion. In 1909, all Chinese entering or residing in the US had to carry Certificates of Identity, even babies and movie stars like Anna May Wong. The creation of America’s immigration system unfolds in the stories of individual immigrants and documents from the National Archives.

Immigration Interview on Angel Island, 1923. National Archives at College Park, MD.

Immigration Interview on Angel Island, 1923. National Archives at College Park, MD.

Media elements are interspersed throughout the recreated station. The inspector’s office includes an interactive media piece that replays the detailed questioning typical of an immigration examination for Chinese entrants. In barracks areas for immigrants in detention, objects and quotes reveal the hopes and fears of those awaiting immigration decisions. A film examines the Supreme Court case Wong Kim Ark vs. United States that affirmed birthright citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment.

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