Thursday morning comes early at our undisclosed location in a city in Marin county whose name means shark in Spanish (oops, almost gave it away!). The young Waller children are traveling with the Hawks on this journey and PM and PL are generously waking early and hanging with the lively Waller youth. Even Richie adds his experienced hand to entertain and care for the children at the early hour of waking. RW is a lucky man to play with such talented and child-friendly musicians.
After hearty cups of strong milkless coffee that galvanize our spirits to nearly a state of ambition, we make our way down the hill and board a ferry to Angel Island. The weather is cool and partly cloudy, a lovely day to hike on the historic island. In recent history the Island served as the “Ellis Island of the West.” But that name is a bit misleading. This western immigration station was really more of a holding pen than a gateway to America. Asian immigrants, particularly the Chinese, were quarantined here for years and often sent back. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 laid the legal framework for these policies. According to Karen Polster of UC Riverside, in 1876, the Marin Journal published charges against the Chinese presence in California on behalf of the white working men of the state and their families:”That he is a slave . . . no fit competitor for an American freeman . . . That American men, women and children cannot be what free people should be, and compete with such degraded creatures in the labor market . . . the health, wealth and prosperity and happiness of our State demand their expulsion from our shores.”
We wandered among the surprisingly graceful block detention buildings nestled in the cliffs of a cove. Poems are etched into the walls that tell of the aspiring-immigrants fate. Here are a few examples:
I am distressed that we Chinese are detained in this wooden building.
It is actually racial barriers which cause difficulties on Yingtai Island
Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox.
I intended to come to America to earn a living.
Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America . . .
[to attain] my ambition and become successful.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,
I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.
Long before Chinese immigrants came to America, indeed long before there was an America at all, the Miwok Indians made their way out to the island in boats made of reeds which could hold as many as ten people. Like the brotherhood of ISHILA, the Miwoks had an animistic philosophy. They trod lightly on the island, apologizing to spirits of the animals and nature whenever they disturbed them, they also used local plants to create trances. It’s a beautiful island and the Hawks are nourished by their visit walking and hanging with the ghosts of history.