While we are hunkered down in the Pittsburg Marina for a few days (70$ for 3 nights? Yes, please.) I’ve had some time to integrate all the experiences we’ve had since sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. Words that come to mind in describing the SF Bay area? Intense. Fast. Bold. Dramatic. Stimulating. Mercurial. Bombarding. Beauty. Energy. Noise. Wind. And finally: Escape. It was the need to escape the constant action and wind of Sausalito’s anchorage that found us running for cover to Angel Island. The word ‘cover’ here is used loosely because really, there are no protected anchorages in the SF Bay area. But our standards were low. We wanted to get away from other boats, and we wanted a land mass between us and the westerlies that scream through the gate regularly. Just one night of peace. We’d put up with ferry wash to get that. You can’t have it all.
We decided on China Cove on Angel Island, an anchorage that got us out of the worst of the wind and offered opportunities to learn to land our dinghy in surf and go to shore for a nice long walk in nature. By that time, I was seriously in need of nature time with no other people around. In fact, I think we both needed some time alone. We were feeling pretty raw, not so much from the passage but from the constant stimulation we had been exposed to since making landfall. Cities are like that.
In spite of the rolly anchorage (again, our low standards) our anchor held fast and this was one of our better decisions during this time in San Fransisco. We landed on the beach at China Cove on a Tuesday, a day that the buildings are closed to the public. That meant there were no other people around and we could take our time exploring the area. Perfect!
China Cove is so named after the Chinese Immigrants who had to pass through here before being granted permission to land in America. The Chinese were ‘excluded’ from easy immigration due to the “Chinese Exclusion Act”. This tragic, infuriating time in our history is marked in the most poignant ways at China Cove. Would that everyone today could go to China Cove and see the displays, opening their hearts and minds to the plight of the immigrant and feel the parallels between that time and now. How little human beings have changed in that 100 years. How carefully we guard what we believe to be ours.
The Asian immigrants, especially the Chinese, were treated as ‘aliens’, a word which is still used to describe anyone who is ‘the other’, who may be different in appearance or culture, or who ‘doesn’t belong’ to the fleeting majority. When we consider other people as ‘alien’ to us, it makes it so much easier to mistreat them. It’s so much easier to just look the other way when we see people as less than human. It’s kind of like using the term ‘collateral damage’ to describe how innocent people are killed in war zones. It’s so much more palatable that way.
Asians were separated from Europeans and given less space to live. This is illustrated easily in the size of the outdoor recreation yard provided. The European yard is about twice the size of the Asian yard. Families were separated with the men having to live separately from wives and children. Many were in the encampment on Angel Island for many months, appealing their case time after time before finally ‘passing’ their interview. It must have been an angel of darkness this island was named after. They lived in barracks, beds stacked one on top of the other. Conditions were squalid. I feel ashamed for the people who were in power during that time, just as I feel ashamed of those in power now who use many of the same words and same psychological ploys to make the populace fearful of immigrants. Considering the fact that unless you are a Native American, you are an immigrant of one kind or another, maybe it’s ourselves we should be fearful of.
As we walked through the area, peeking into the buildings, reading the displays, feeling our way into the experiences of the place, a myriad of emotions swept through me in the quiet of the day. Without other people, without a ‘guide’ to tell me what to know, I am more open to these encounters with history. The resonances of the experiences of humanity that mark a place become more easily felt when the mind is open and quiet and the heart is willing. Despair. Grief. Longing. Fear. Bitter disappointment. Incredulousness. Of course. But also laughter and joy. Exultation. Relief. Love. Forgiveness. Understanding. We know intellectually that all of these forces of feeling existed for the residents, or I might say, inmates, of China Cove. But to allow the emotions to waft through the body, to acknowledge them and bless them, to ask, ‘Why am I experiencing this emotion on this particular spot?’; this is to experience a place on a different level.
If you are not in the San Fransisco area, follow the links in this post and read about this monument to a darker part of our American history. Look for the parallels to our current climate regarding immigration. Those parallels are not hard to find. If you are in the San Fransisco Bay area, go to Angel Island. Go to China Cove and visit with the ghosts of the past that live there. You can take a ferry to the island. Allow this place to come to life for you. The buildings are open on Wednesdays. But any day is a good day for wandering through time with a quiet mind and an open heart.