This is Not for You

Memorials that commemorate immigrants establish a sense of community when directed to the group they represent, not because they promote exclusion but because they reflect the immigrant belief that the suffering of their ancestors can only be understood by the community itself.

Limiting the Audience

"Leaving their homes and villages, they crossed the ocean only to endure confinement in these barracks. Conquering frontiers and barriers, they pioneered a new life by the Golden Gate."

The Angel Island Immigration Station underwent a massive restoration from 2005 to 2009 with the intent of preserving a piece of history that could then be shared with the American public. The station was in fact scheduled to be torn down when Chinese poems, written by the immigrant prisoners, were discovered carved into the walls of the rooms where they slept. 

"I look to see who is happy but they only sit quietly, I am anxious and depressed and cannot fall asleep."

Visitors can now tour the barracks where Chinese immigrants were imprisoned in the decades leading up to World War II. It is significant that this piece of history is even allowed to be seen by the public, because the US has a tendency to attempt to repress the more racist parts of its history. It seems to be a true attempt at remembrance so as not to repeat mistakes, with a particular focus on honoring those that suffered.

An example of this focus is the Angel Island Chinese Monument. Located outside the Station, the monument is engraved with a phrase in Chinese. The words themselves, though nice enough, are less important than the fact that they are written in Chinese. It therefore limits the audience, preventing white visitors from inserting themselves into a Chinese narrative and attempting to co-opt pain that does not belong to them. Only a Chinese or Chinese-American visitor would be in theory able to read the monument, meaning that it is understood that no one else could fathom these struggles, and that the particular pain that exists in the foundations of Angel Island is respected as generational trauma that belongs to Chinese immigrants.

Changing the Source of Creation

The Syrian Garden is a demonstration of what happens when the creation of a memorial is put into the hands of the people it is for. Created by and for Syrian-Americans, the garden is a synthesis of Syrian heritage to an extent that could never have been reached by anyone else. Everything from the architecture down to the flowers in the landscape (Damascene roses) possess cultural meaning. 


Today, the garden is a gathering place for the Syrian community. The garden’s Facebook page contains images of people gathering there in traditional garb. Could the garden have become this exceptional had it been designed and built by a non-Syrian? Doubtful. It is clear that a relationship to the community in question is a key component in the success or meaningfulness of a monument.

Honoring the Past

Sometimes the group that a memorial honors no longer exists in its original form. Slaves are an example of this, but by no means are the repercussions of slavery gone. There is still a Black community that continues to suffer, and it is always important to remember history. However, the suffering of slaves and resulting generational trauma is not something that can be shared by anyone except Black people currently living in the US. It is therefore important that monuments in remembrance to slavery be created by Black artists and placed in locations accessible to Black people.

Another Time’s Voice Remembers My Passion’s Humanity is an example of such a monument. Painted on the side of a youth center in the area of Chicago known as Black Metropolis, the mural serves to educate Black youth of their ancestors and incorporates subtle feminist thought in its focus on the strength of the Black matriarchy.


Works Cited

Associated Press. “Immigration History Preserved on Angel Island.”, NBC Universal News Group, 27 Jan. 2009,