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San Bruno Facility To House Asian-American Immigration Documents

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Asian-American immigration documents at the National Archives facility in San Bruno. (CBS)

Asian-American immigration documents at the National Archives facility in San Bruno. (CBS)

SAN BRUNO (CBS 5) — Asian-Americans will soon have a new way to connect to their past. Immigration documents, some of them 100 years old, will be made available to the public at a facility in San Bruno.

“Just the other day, I had a woman see a photo of her father. She burst into tears in our research room. Just those kinds of visceral reactions make you realize how much this means to our researchers,” archivist Marisa Louie said.

>>National Archives San Francisco Federal Records Center

The Federal Government had targeted most of the dusty files for destruction. Others were headed for storage in the National Archives’ limestone cave at Lee’s Summit, Missouri, locked away for eternity.

It took 15 years, four presidents, and a final push by late Congressman Tom Lantos and Congresswoman Jackie Speier to save the collection. The records are now preserved in climate-controlled rooms and will be open for public viewing for the first time beginning this summer at the National Archives facility in San Bruno.

Rosalyn Tonai of the National Japanese American Historical society said the files document Asian contributions to California and American history.

“People have sort of buried their past. World War II wasn’t good for Japanese Americans having gone to incarceration camps. (There is) a lot of buried history that can be further investigated and revealed,” Tonai said.

It’s also personal for Tonai. She received a preview of her grandparent’s history that has been stored for 70 years. “The details all their addresses, places of business. What they did, how much money they brought over, it’s all there in the archives. It’s incredible,” she said.

43,000 alien case files for those who were born in 1910 and before were released in the first phase. Millions more will follow in the coming years.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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