UC Davis Magazine Online
Volume 23
Number 4
Summer 2006
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Chapbook coverFor a generation of immigrants arriving by ship, the entry into the San Francisco Bay represented only a symbolic end to their journey, for just within its border waited a long and often harrowing detention at the Angel Island immigration station. This was the case especially for over 175,000 Chinese immigrants, members of the only ethnic group ever specifically barred from entering the United States.

Now, more than 65 years after the immigration station closed its doors, students and faculty of the Pacific Regional Humanities Center at UC Davis have assembled the Angel Island Oral History Project to document the firsthand accounts of this vital piece of California history.

While the project is ongoing, student volunteers have already conducted one-on-one interviews with more than two dozen former detainees. Subjects have been primarily Chinese, though interviews with immigrants from Japan, as well as with one refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria, illustrate the diversity of immigrants who came through the station.

Some of the accounts have already been published in a small chapbook, and a larger book is planned. In addition, because the project coincides with the renovation of the immigration station landmark, the interviews may also provide material for new exhibits at the site.

For now, though, the team is focused on collecting as much material as possible, to be sure that the complete Angel Island story has a chance to be told. Most of the current group of cohorts journeyed to the United States as children, not long before the immigration station closed in 1940, so they represent the last living link to what transpired there. Because these detainees experienced Angel Island while young, their narratives also possess a tone of resilience not captured in previous collections, said project coordinator Aaron DiFranco.

DiFranco hopes that the Angel Island Oral History Project can continue the work of past historians, leading to a greater understanding of the process of immigration and its role in weaving the fabric of our society.

“We hope that these stories can connect various communities,” DiFranco said. “Angel Island is often thought of as a particular place of the Asian American experience, which it is, but it’s also part of the larger immigrant story—and that is really the story of California.”

For the detainees, too, there is hope that their stories might benefit future generations of immigrants. “It is good for people in this country . . . to go [to Angel Island] to look—and then to re-think the past,” said Benjamin Choy, who arrived at the immigration station as a 13-year-old in 1930. “You learn about the past and maybe you can do something different in the future. Make it better.”

— David Owen



Carl Gorman photo
Carl Gorman

Punished as a child for speaking Navajo at a mission school, Carl Gorman was surprised to learn in World War II that the Marines had recruited him and 28 other Navajos for their language.

Gorman became one of the first Navajo “code talkers,” helping the U.S. military develop an encryption system that the Japanese were never able to crack. Gorman was also the oldest of the code talkers, whose numbers grew to an estimated 400 by the war’s end. In spring 1942, Gorman was 34 and lied about his age to join the Marines.

He spent much of the war on the front lines in the Pacific with a radio in his hands. The code talkers’ mission was kept secret, even to their fellow Marines who sometimes mistook them and the code for Japanese.

In fact, the code talkers had to keep their work secret until 1968. A year later, Gorman, who studied art in Los Angeles and worked as an illustrator after the war, joined the UC Davis faculty, helping to found the Native American studies department and creating the Native American art studio workshop.

Still, many of his colleagues did not learn about his war experiences until years later. During a 1997 visit to campus, Gorman said many code talkers felt long bound by government admonishments to keep quiet about the code.

Gorman left the UC Davis faculty in 1973 to direct a native-healing project in Arizona and to paint. In 1995, the University of Arizona unveiled a code talker monument, a bust of Gorman sculpted by his son, the late artist R.C. Gorman.

“Many people ask me why I fought for my country when the government has treated us pretty bad,” Carl Gorman said at that time. “But before the white man came to this country, this whole land was Indian country and we still think it’s our land, so we fight for it. I was very proud to serve my country.”

— Kathleen Holder



UC Davis now offers e-mail forwarding service for alumni who left campus on or after June 1, 2005. To get your @ucdavis.edu incoming mail automatically sent on to another address, register online at emailforwarding.ucdavis.edu. Administrators recommend signing up first for the online password reset service in case you forget your Kerberos password. The Cal Aggie Alumni Association also offers members free e-mail accounts that include an on-line calendar and mail forwarding. For more information or to sign up for the CAAA service, see www.ucdavis-alumni.com/suemail.html.



As the campus nears its 2008–09 centennial celebration, we take a look back at what was happening 100 years ago.

The purchase price in June 1906 for the University Farm’s 779.72-acre site was $104,250—and that was a hard bargain.

The owner of 730 acres of that land—farmer Martin Sparks, who had been talking with University Farm boosters for more than a year about a possible sale—raised his asking per-acre price in May 1906 from $120 to $125.

Sparks insisted on being paid interest to renew the option on his land, according to a journal entry by George Pierce Jr., a prominent local farmer and driving force behind Davis’ campaign to win the University Farm.

A state commission a month earlier had selected Davis as the University Farm site on the condition that backers obtain title to the land and water rights.

After a series of meetings with Sparks in May, Pierce agreed to Sparks’ price for a new option. “Got one, but it is a fearfully tough one,” Pierce wrote. The total price, the Davis Enterprise later reported, was $91,309.

On June 22, Sparks signed over the deed to his land, which would make up most of the campus’s historic core. So, too, did Oren Wright, the owner of a 16.72-acre tract known as Devlin Park near downtown—about where Aggie Village and the Davis Commons shopping center currently stand. Wright’s property sold for $4,000.

Three days later, Henry Hamel signed over his 32-acre vineyard for $7,984. The land, near today’s intersection of First and A streets, joined the Sparks and Wright sites. Hamel had earlier been reluctant to sell, according to an account in Joann Leach Larkey’s book Davisville ’68: The History and Heritage of the City of Davis, but his nine children reportedly took a secret vote to override him.

After taxes and other closing costs, the final price recorded by the university came to $104,250.

Six minutes after getting Hamel’s signature, Pierce boarded a train to Sacramento to deliver the three deeds to Gov. George Pardee. A July 25 payment of $4,517, collected from local boosters, secured the water rights, clearing one of the last hurdles in securing a site for the future UC Davis.

— Kathleen Holder


Dimetrodon skull images

A virtual museum created by Ryosuke Motani, assistant professor of geology, allows users to turn, zoom and examine dinosaur skulls, shark and mammoth teeth, ancient shells and other fossils from all sides. Above are views of a Dimetrodon skull. Motani is also using similar methods to study elasmosaurs, a type of marine dinosaur that had an extremely long neck—up to six yards, half again as long as the rest of its body. “Our project is to reconstruct it in three dimensions and see how it could move,” he said. Most of the images at www.3Dmuseum.org can be downloaded for personal use and teaching purposes and incorporated into slide presentations. The fossils on display come mostly from private collections and the Condon Museum at the University of Oregon.


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