“Your Wall is Our Canvas”: The Angel Island Project

Anna May Wong – Certificate of Identity National Archives

Anna May Wong – Certificate of Identity National Archives

Detained in this wooden house for several tens of days,
It is all because of the Mexican exclusion law which implicates me.
It’s a pity heroes have no way of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so that I can snap Zu’s whip.

From now on, I am departing far from this building
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.

– From the walls of Angel Island Immigration Station, author unknown, Poem 69 from Island, p. 134.

Between 1910 and 1940, as new immigrants flowed through the immigration station on Angel Island inside the San Francisco Bay, Chinese immigrants faced massive discrimination because of one of America’s earliest racist immigration legislation – the Chinese Exclusion Act. Being held for sometimes up to years in brutal conditions at the detention center, many of these immigrations looked for solace by inscribing poetry onto the walls of the center.

“Your Wall is Our Canvas: the Angel Island Project” will bring these poems to life in the very space they were created. Composed by Huang Ruo, the 45-minute oratorio for string quartet and chamber choir will weave a story of immigration and discrimination of then and now. Premiere performances will occur at the Angel Island Immigration Station in October 2020. There premiere will include TED-style talks with prominent experts in immigration law, civil rights, and Chinese-American cultural history.

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Plus Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and other community organizations.

This project is supported in part by the Hewlett Foundation “50 Arts Commissions.” Find out more about Hewlett’s initiative.

Music by Huang Ruo