MY RECENT TRIP BACK TO
THE ANGEL ISLAND IMMIGRATION STATION
Part 2 of 2
Yesterday, I wrote about the surrounding areas outside the main barracks at the Angel Island Immigration Station. Today, we go inside the barracks, to the 1st floor.
The 1st floor is the main dormitory where the men and boys stayed. Most of the women and small children stayed on the 2nd floor. With the renovations, the 1st floor room is clean and clear, with many signs and photos re-telling the history. There are comfortable benches to sit on, so I planted myself down, and took in the room’s energy. I thought about all those men and boys who slept here, played cards, read newspapers, and worried about their fates. Between these metal poles, imagine triple bunk beds crowding the space:
There is a saying, “if walls could talk…” Well, these walls do talk. With much improved lighting, the main attraction here is the poetry on the wall. Detainees had carved poems into the walls which reflected their anger, homesickness, and disappointment in coming to America and being held captive here.
I have a scene in PAPER SON where Moon finds his friend, Old Man Fong carving poetry into the wall. When he realizes what Old Man Fong is doing and why, Moon then decides to carve something into the wall, something extremely dear to him. Something he misses. But I won’t spoil it; you'll have to read my book to find out what!
I learned that some detainees carved pictures, such as horses and trees. You may not be able to see it clearly in this video clip, but this is a horse!
I was disappointed that I couldn’t get into a tour which would take me upstairs to the women's and non-Chinese men's quarters, complete with new historical displays. The school groups had filled up the slots for the day. (Not a bad thing at all!) Oh, well... I'll have to return!
But this visit proved to be very enlightening. There was a self guided tour of the poems on the 1st floor. So, I walked around the room with the little laminated guide in hand, and read about one poem carved on the south wall. It was not an original poem by a detainee, but one written by Li Bo (701-762) from the Tang Dynasty called “Quiet Night Thoughts.”
Before my bed, the bright moonlight
I mistake it for frost on the ground
Raising my head, I stare at the bright moon
Lowering my head, I think of home
Instantly, I knew this poem could make it into my novel in a very significant way. There's a song which Moon’s mother sings to him, a song that I created. And that song takes on different roles during the course of the novel. What if she sang this poem to him? I had thought of looking for a Chinese poem or song to replace the song I currently have in the novel. And this poem may be the one.
I'm liking it the more I think about it.
It’s something I’ll discuss with an editor, when I connect with and find an editor for my novel!