Most of the detainees of Angel Island were not highly educated people. However, most of them were aware of Classical Chinese Poetry. The people who were detained at Angel Island were those who were in their teens or early twenties. The authors of these poems are unknown, as the detainees do not signed their names because of the fear of officials. However, at some places they have given oblique references about their place of origin. For example:
Poem by One Named Xu, From Xiangshan
By One from Taishan.(Nelson, 2000)
Most of the Chinese immigrants were from the rural areas of Guandong and had come to America for finding better work opportunities. After China lost in the Opium War with Britain, the place was filled with political chaos and high taxes were imposed on Chinese people. The poems of Angel Island informs about the historical identity of the poets, as the poems written on the walls are in colloquial Cantonese and most of them attempted to write in the classical style and have used the historical allegory of jueju poetry. Numerous grammatical mistakes in the poems identify the authors as unrefined with peasant backgrounds.
The poets from Angel Island have followed the classical mode of historical metaphor. The poems filled with rage and revenge plots were also common in the classical Chinese poetry of Angel Island. In the review of the Island written by Marlon Hom, he had stated that “The Island experience must have been extremely cruel and unbearable to the extent it completely destroyed an immigrant’s hope and admiration for America, and replaced those feelings with those of hatred and vengeance” (Hom, 1981). Early Chinese immigrants in America are confronted with unexpected situation and what they actually encounter is that they were detained in the Angel Island. Many of them went through physical exams and interrogations, as well as longer detentions as an effect of the Chinese Exclusion Law (Yung, 2015).
Looking through the poems of these early Chinese immigrants, it can be found that there are some poems written in gracious language and written in high skills but there are also some that are composed with many grammatical mistakes. From it, it could be concluded that not all early Chinese immigrants have received higher education and some of them are simply having problems in dealing with the language. Baca has in his book also added that the immigrants’ poems can be regarded as the highlight of the special living environment and complex emotions of those early Chinese immigrants toward both China and America (Baca & Santiago, 1990). In the immigrants’ poems, the unstable emotion, the tough living situation and the fresh experience not only involve a complex cultural background of the poetry writers but also they will introduce a new perspective about life attitude for readers. If one read the poems by these early Chinese immigrants carefully, he/she will unconsciously grow empathy towards the writers, feeling the desolation and desperation between the lines.