Closing the Golden Door

Asian Migration and the Hidden History of Exclusion at Ellis Island

By Anna Pegler-Gordon

344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 halftones, 1 map, 8 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6569-6
    Published: December 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6572-6
    Published: December 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6573-3
    Published: October 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5702-6
    Published: October 2021

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 2023 Association for Asian American Studies Award for Best Book in History

The immigration station at New York’s Ellis Island opened in 1892 and remained the largest U.S. port for immigrant entry until World War I. In popular memory, Ellis Island is typically seen as a gateway for Europeans seeking to join the “great American melting pot.” But as this fresh examination of Ellis Island’s history reveals, it was also a major site of immigrant detention and exclusion, especially for Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian travelers and maritime laborers who reached New York City from Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, and even within the United States. And from 1924 to 1954, the station functioned as a detention camp and deportation center for a range of people deemed undesirable.

Anna Pegler-Gordon draws on immigrants’ oral histories and memoirs, government archives, newspapers, and other sources to reorient the history of migration and exclusion in the United States. In chronicling the circumstances of those who passed through or were detained at Ellis Island, she shows that Asian exclusion was both larger in scope and more limited in force than has been previously recognized.

About the Author

Anna Pegler-Gordon is a professor in the James Madison College and the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at Michigan State University.
For more information about Anna Pegler-Gordon, visit the Author Page.


"Pegler-Gordon deserves credit for taking on a very large subject and transforming it into a coherent and well-organized narrative. . . . In our current age of official bans on immigration and refugees, it is worthwhile to have a historical insight into the management of marginalized aliens."—Nichi Bei

"Closing the Golden Door challenges the Ellis Island model of immigration that is at the center of narratives on US immigration. . . . it provides a unique perspective on New York City that builds on earlier scholarship about the history of Asians and Asian Americans in the city."—Gotham Center for New York City History

“Doing what Asian American and ethnic studies scholars do best, Pegler-Gordon challenges master narratives of American history by bringing forth the experiences of Asians knocking on Ellis Island’s Golden Door. This new Asian American narrative demands our attention.”—Evelyn Hu-DeHart, professor of history, American studies and ethnic studies, Brown University

"Ellis Island—famed immigrant gateway to the American dream—held a darker meaning for Chinese and Japanese migrants. With great care and insight, Pegler-Gordon reconstructs their harrowing experiences of smuggling, detainment, and internment in New York.”—Beth Lew-Williams, Princeton University

“Pegler-Gordon offers a novel and convincing case for understanding Ellis Island as a site for Asian immigration and deportation in the early twentieth century.”—Greg Robinson, Université du Québec a Montréal

"Pegler-Gordon deepens our understanding of the complex geographies of Asian American migration and immigrant detention. This book is steeped in the best traditions of social history.”—Ethan Blue, The University of Western Australia