Happy Fourth of July, and the story of an American Chinese

I’m an American and Chinese, we’ve been here for over 127 years in San Francisco.

Fourth of July

It’s Fourth of July here in the United States, where we celebrate our independence. What does being American mean to me? A lot of things, now that I’ve traveled a lot of the world. There’s a lot of thing that I’m proud of and grateful for, such as the freedom to say and write whatever I want. I’ve traveled to other countries, and I felt myself guarding just a little bit about what I was going to write while in those countries. There’s a lot of things that I’m NOT proud of as an American, but that’s for a different time, and probably a different blog.

Silicon Valley
One thing that I’m proud of is that it’s a place that different cultures can mix and grow into something new. Silicon Valley is an example of this, the different cultures, background prime the pot for new ideas, one which has really helped the web industry take off. Innovation is healthy when new ideas are encouraged.

The lineage
I’m actually a fifth generation American Chinese, we came over here during the 1890s.

Great Great Grandfather
The first picture below is my grandfather’s grandfather who came to the United States. You can see him pictured on the top, he was wearing appropriate garb for that time, during the last dynasty of China. You see, my Grandfather’s Grandfather Gum Tong Owyang was a consulate from the Royal Emporor of China to San Francisco and the Northern Regions. As I understand it, he went as far North as Seattle to deal with some very anti-Chinese activities. This is an oil painting, which I’ve seen in the ancestral home in China.

Great Grandfather
His son, Com Him Owyang lived in Chinatown SF, and had a variety of business. As I understand it, he was more in favor for the new regime in China, which became the Communist party we know now.

Captain Edwin Owyang was one of Chinatown’s most prominent family doctors, he raised 6 sons (no daughters) one which is my father. He was a Captain in the United States Army, and served in Burma during WW2. He participated in a lot of community building events, and settled his family in San Mateo on 3rd street, the only neighborhood allowed to sell to Chinese during the 50s. Yes, it was segregation. In the picture below, is his Graduation at UC Berkeley. His brother is one of the founders of Pi Alpha Phi, an Asian Fraternity. He has passed on a few years ago.

My father, Douglas Owyang is also a Doctor who is still alive, joined me on the trip to China, he reads this blog, and shared his experience on the trip. He’s also very involved in Martial Arts, and helps a whole community around that in Fresno where I was raised.


Me, well, you know me already. I never wanted to be a Doctor, technology and creativity was my heart was. If you can’t tell the theme here, the virtue of COMMUNITY is part of my bloodline.

A return to our roots
I know my roots, I lead a group of Owyang’s (some assembled on the Internet due to my Community building) and we took a trip back to our home village Dai Lian, near Zhongshan in Canton China this last winter. There were 30 of us, I was the leader. In fact, there’s a bunch of posts on it (there are three posts), as well as a group blog.

While I don’t speak Chinese (my wife is fluent) we’re going to make sure out kids do. America and China are two of the greatest nations on Earth, and I’m proud to have roots in both. Growing up, I got a lot of crap about not being white (Fresno has few Asians) when I moved to the bay area, I got a lot of crap for not being Chinese enough. Interesting huh?

This is my story, as an American Chinese. Happy Fourth of July America, and Peace on earth to all countries and cultures, I believe the Internet is a tool that can help connect us all, and build one community.


Jeremiah Owyang's Lineage


  • Hi Jeremiah. Great post. This is so impressive – both that you know so much about your lineage and that your family has been part of the American story for so long. My grandparents arrived here from Italy around 1900, but I’m sorry to say the details are blurry. I wish my family had kept track of these things; perhaps that is a project I will undertake. One point to note. Today is my paternal grandfather’s birthday. Anthony I. Agresta, Sr. was born on July 4th, 1900. He passed away over 20 years ago, but I recall his birthday celebration in 1976! That was quite a fete!

    Thanks for your story.

    Have a great holiday, and may we all celebrate independence and diversity.


  • Thanks for sharing your story & photos. The online community I’m a part of is all about the power of the photos & relating that story. Make sure that those photos are organized & journaled – it’s a treasure to future generations!

    The web IS a powerful connector. When I created my dad’s heritage book, I came up with a postcard of a farm written in Norwegian (which I don’t do). So I scanned it & asked a relative in Norway & it turned out to be the home farm named Lund, which is my Dad’s surname. In Norway their last name was Johnson (definitely a good idea to take the farm’s name!). The thoughtful relative in Norway asked if I was interested in the photo of my great-great-grandfather hanging on his mother’s wall (he never lived in the US)? So, I now have a digital version of that photo. I’m looking forward to a trip to Norway & Sweden with my parents soon.

    Thanks for spurring the conversation. (you may get a few stories!)

  • Stephanie, thanks

    We have a family “photo project” underway, good points.

  • Connie, awesome.

    Actually, some of my family married Norse, 90% of my cousins are Hopa. (half asian, half euro)

  • I had some genealogy done. I thought I could find how my ancestors had come from Wales in the last century. Nope. We’ve been here since the 1600s. My original ancestor from Wales settled in Rhode Island, probably indentured. My director ancestor and his brother fought in the Battle of New York, holding Gen. Howe until Washington and his troops could get across the Hudson, then spent a year aboard a British prison ship. When it was all over, 5 Hopkins men went west (Kentucky) and put it behind them, as much as they could with a father who was a notorious Loyalist and hung as a horse thief in Virginia at the same time his sons fought on the American side. My wife’s father was the first of his line to come to America, after escaping the Nazis in WWII. All of us, Americans. Hard to explain what that means, since it means so much, to people who aren’t. Happy Independence Day, you American monsters you.

  • Hi Jeremiah,

    Just wondering if you put this kind of info in a service like Geni.com?

    A lot of Americans are probably not aware that Chinese people couldn’t become citizens until the 1940’s (largely due to the war). While America still has a lot of work to do, we’ve come along way just in the past 40+ years.

    Interesting read! Thanks!

  • Interesting story Curt, thanks for sharing.

    I’ve not seen Geni Damon, is it the best family type of site out there? I created my own at owyang.org

  • Jeremiah,

    What an awesome post, thoroughly enjoyed it. Several years ago I volunteered at an assisted living facility in Palo Alto. I met a Chinese woman there who was 103, and used email to stay in touch with her family in China.


  • Thanks Joel, I don’t always share this much information, but it felt appropriate on 4th of July.

  • Jeremiah, use Geni to build a family tree.

    God knows if we will be connected at some point of time 🙂

  • Geni is a social network for helping you build your family tree. Very web 2.0…

    David Sacks, former COO of PayPal & Producer of Thank You for Smoking, created the company.

  • I’ve started Geni.com everyone, it’s really great.

  • Your Kid Sister

    Holy tomatoes! You didn’t tell me your grandfather’s brother was a founder of Pi Alpha Phi! What was his name?

    Anyway, great post. Blogs are interesting when they are more personal. I learned a lot about your family through this post even though I’m already a part of it. Perhaps the sisters and I shall document ourselves so that one day our great great grandchildren will blog about us. HAHA.

  • Hey Kid Sister!

    Holy Tomatoes! Yes, since you have access to Geni.com you can check it out for yourself, my Grandfather had only one Owyang. Eric Owyang.

    I want to see more of your tree mapped out, maybe a project for you!

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  • What an awesome lineage, family tree, you can be real proud. As a South African with mixed heritage also it is a challenge finding one’s “place” in the world and with a volatile socio-political dynamic going on all around, it feels overwhelming sometimes

    Here’s to all the multitude of peoples and cultures, may we all learn to live together and respect the differences without resorting to any unpleasantness

    Respects from South Africa

  • Wonderful Jeremiah,

    Your passion for technology and creativity shines through in virtue as a Community Builder.

    Beautiful that You shared about Roots and Lineage of Your Family, The Owyang’s. Really is a nice Blog Post, keep on doing Your thing, because the Internet is a great tool to bring us all together as better neighbors. Keep Hope Alive!

    Happy Independence Day – July 4, 2008
    Jim Legington

  • Qiang

    wow. i am a chinese from china. i am amazed by your lineage. especially your Great Great Grandfather. he maybe well known for diplomacy. have you explored on that?

    googleing Gum Tong Owyang came out nothing.(probably because of the cantonese pronunciation? ) what is “Gum Tong” in chinese writing?

  • Nathalie

    I’m certainly very, very surprised to hear your family has so much mixed blood. all i’ve got is a half jewish half chinese cousin. i’m happy you decided to have your kids (when you have kids, that is) to learn chinese, too. I feel culture and language is very important, and even if the person is only half of or only partially of asian blood it still matters b/c it makes up who the person is. do you have cousins who are only partially chinese or nephews and nieces of partial chinese blood?

  • Nathalie

    btw my father is taiwanese as well. he belongs to an ethnic group called hakka from his mother’s side of the family. i think taiwanese is still considered chinese. but of course in taiwan they speak the dialect of chinese called taiwanese that is close to the dialect of hokkien which originates from china. and hakkas speak hakkanese (another chinese dialect lol).

  • Hi Jeremiah,

    I subscribed to your blog about a year ago, but only now stumbled up this entry. It’s a wonderful read and really helps your readers to learn about the person behind the web strategy insights. It also makes me aware that I really need to add some more personal info on my own blog.

    BTW: For all the detailed info, I noticed you didn’t tell us your age. That’s just not done in the States, is it?

    Greetings from Cologne, Germany

  • I’m in my mid 30s!

  • Keith Lue

    Jeremiah (My Distant Cousin),

    Thought you would enjoy this clip of an Emmy award-winning animation by BYU students. The movie short is called Kites. It is about a little boy who is reunited with his grandfather. The characters remind me of our Chinese ancestry. The music and animation are beautiful. http://byunews.byu.edu/archive09-Mar-kitesvideo.aspx


  • Connie, awesome.

    Actually, some of my family married Norse, 90% of my cousins are Hopa. (half asian, half euro)

  • Jana Brown

    You look just like your father!

  • Jana Brown

    I learned about your work and blog from Ashley Hyder, Manager Public Relations & Communications of Volunteer Center of North Texas. Ashley was a presenter at the annual volunteer management conference March 5, in Grand Prairie Texas.

  • Jana Brown

    You look just like your father!

  • Jana Brown

    I learned about your work and blog from Ashley Hyder, Manager Public Relations & Communications of Volunteer Center of North Texas. Ashley was a presenter at the annual volunteer management conference March 5, in Grand Prairie Texas.

  • He is an American pioneer whose vehicle is one of the first automobiles ever built.

  • Global

    Dear Jeremiah,
    Nice blog regarding the 4th of July. We are Global US citizens, AZ and Malaysia roots, raising our kids in China these past 13 yrs. We plan to shoot off…fireworks of course this coming Sat in Kunming at our CoffeeShoppe. God bless you.  Tim & Belle 2011