After arriving on Angel Island, Ong was given an extensive medical exam. He was then assigned to stay with strangers in a cramped room filled with rows of triple bunk beds (see photo above).
Before he could enter the U.S., Ong would have to answer questions correctly to prove that he was actually who he claimed to be. But there was no telling when he’d be called. Some people were held on the island for more than a year.
“It became a prison,” Ong says.
After four months, Ong was finally interviewed. He had prepared thoroughly for questions he might be asked—but they were purposely difficult, especially for a kid. What direction did his house in China face? How many steps led to his front door? What were the ages of his neighbors?
Ong’s father was brought in for questioning too. If their answers didn’t match, the immigration agents would conclude that they weren’t actually related.
Ong couldn’t answer many of the questions. He failed the test and was deported.
“It was one of the worst moments of my life,” he recalls. “I felt I had failed my family, and it was the end of my journey.”