On Thursday, a group of speakers who are involved in or have experienced immigration firsthand discussed personal stories and policy issues related to refugees and asylum seekers. Topics at the event, titled “Refugees and Asylum Seekers: From Angel Island to Now,” included paying off pirates, comforting refugees of the 1917 Russian Revolution and fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria as a Jew.
The Stanford Asian American Student Association partnered with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) to host the event. Speakers said they offered accounts of their own histories in hopes of fostering respectful conversation regarding the current plight of refugees who seek asylum in the United States.
“Our goal today is to connect the dots between the history of refugees at Angel Island to the refugees and asylum seekers today,” said AIISF board member Rosmarie Namh. “Today we rely too much on political soundbites and headlines and not enough on facts.”
Speaker Heather Klein, who did not personally immigrate to the United States, expressed a deep-seated desire to learn about the journey of her grandmother, Rosa Ginsburg, who immigrated from Nazi-occupied Austria.
“I knew that she made really great Hungarian goulash, that she smoked a lot of cigarettes, that she really loved her family, that she escaped World War II and made it to the United States,” Klein explained in a prerecorded video clip shown at Thursday’s event.
She added that, upon finding Ginsburg’s name in an article online, she was motivated to visit Angel Island and recreate the journey that her grandmother underwent. Ginsburg was betrayed by her lifelong neighbors, who reported her Jewish family to the authorities. She and her family fled to Shanghai, but she alone made the long journey across the Pacific to the United States, where she was detained at Angel Island for three weeks.