I Claim Ignorance By Way of Location

Growing up in Massachusetts, I feel I was taught very little about history that didn’t involve Pilgrims, Puritans, and Revolutionary War heroes.  Ellis Island was definitely thrown into the mix somewhere around the 5th grade, but it was not until I began reading for this class that I had ever even heard of Angel Island.  Feeling like the most ignorant person on the planet, I immediately started Google-ing Angel Island in order to learn what I had been missing and why I had been missing it.  But this initial response of ignorance made me wonder: how important is geographical location in relation to what gets taught in the United States?  If you attend public school in the Boston area like I did, does that mean that teachers are more likely to spend extra time with you on the Boston Tea Party than teachers would in say, Portland Oregon?  And if this is the case, are educators spending more time on the West Coast talking about Angel Island than we are on the East?  Perhaps some of you have lived on the West Coast or in other parts of the US and can help me answer that.  Or (hopefully) some others are in the same boat as me?

In my quest for information, I found this great video on the multi-million dollar renovation of Angel Island.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/cW6f96SgknY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Also, if you visit the Angel Island website, it’s interesting to see how Angel Island is being advertised as a great “family outing” and ideal wedding destination.  I don’t know about you, but I think it would be a little odd to get married in a place that has such a rich history of anxiety, oppression, and despair.

AND, going into the whole Angel v. Ellis thing, here is a very interesting paper that I found via Dartmouth College.  It covers a few obvious similarities between Angel Island and Ellis Island, but then looks into the differences which get to be pretty crazy.  Not to mention the fact that the writer seems to lament with me towards the end of the piece, talking of how he/she was not exposed to Asian-American immigration and Angel Island until college.  I myself definitely feel a little cheated.

6 Responses to “I Claim Ignorance By Way of Location”

  1. Upma Says:


    Aside from that, I’m a bit appalled that people would advertise Angel Island as a type of resort to be married at. I know it probably isn’t a big deal but goodness, why on Earth would you advertise marriage at such a what is a heartbreaking location?

  2. Heather Says:

    Location definitely impacts what’s taught in public schools! I grew up in VA so we spent a ton of time on colonialism and took field trips to Jamestown and Williamsburg and even had a colonial day in which we had to come to school dressed up in historic clothing and did activities like sewing, candle making, and authentic colonial games! haha

    It’s not so much that teachers are required to spend more time on things that happened in your area, but it’s easier to get students to relate to the material. I’m in the teacher education program and they always talk about how much more enriching and memorable you can make a lesson by relating it to what’s around the students. Now that’s not to say that things should be skipped, because Angel island could easily be related to things the students are familiar with or learned about in regards to Pilgrims or colonist or whatever; it just takes more work from the teachers.

    Although I never lived on the West Coast, I would assume that they would have a similar experience of spending tons of time on Angel Island, taking trips to forming mining sites when talking about the Gold Rush but spending little time in comparison on other topics. Sorry this comment got so long, but I think your video is great!

  3. sdelaney Says:

    I had very much the same problem. Ive lived my whole life around richmond,Va.. Ive been to Jamestown/Yorktown etc more times than i care to remember! so i think it is probably not uncommon to focus on aspects of american history that resonate most closely with our geographic location.

  4. Alyssa Dandrea Says:

    Thanks for sharing this Sarah, really informative stuff…I’m having the same reaction as everyone else it seems, because though I lived in Minnesota the first several years of my life I got the bulk of my education in VA. I only vaguely remember hearing the name Angel Island, briefly touching on Japanese internment camps during the war and the Chinese Exclusion Act…all of which I knew nothing of until my AP U.S. History class as a senior. I feel cheated and a little ashamed that I’m 21 and just now learning/understanding how truly horrible the Chinese immigrants were treated. Huge eye opener.

  5. kfabie Says:

    Timing is everything. Not only did I not realize Angel Island’s history, I lived in San Francisco for 10 years in the early ’70 and took the ferry to Angel Island on more than one occasion and had not heard of its rich history until this class. At that time, Angel Island was a day destination for hikers and picnickers, and there was no explanatory information about the dilapidated buildings that occupied one end of the island. I am sure I must have heard at some point that it was a processing center for Chinese immigrants, but it was not part of the identity of the island at that time. After seeing the beautiful carved poetry in the wooden walls in this film, I am so glad that it was preserved and restored. Most important is the fact that the immigrant stories are now being told.

  6. Erin L. Says:

    @Heather I would say that’s definitely true, but the state does heavily dictate what you learn as well. My freshman and sophomore year of high school I attended school in Minnesota, and we focused on Minnesotan history in my social studies class. If I recall nothing that interesting every happened in Minnesota except for Jesse James but we spent a whole trimester on it anyway. When I lived in Hawai’i during my elementary school years, though I was homeschooled my entire time there, I know that all my friends learned about the U.S. acquisition of Hawai’i and Queen Liliokalani’s subsequent imprisonment. I think the mentality is “who’s going to care about our specific history if not the people who live there?”