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Hoiping, Guangdong to San Rafael, CA

1901 | Yet Nam Ong | Male | 12-19 years old

by Roy Chan

Filed under:

Angel Island immigrant: No

Place of Origin
Hoiping, Guangdong

Place of Settlement
San Rafael, CA
Ong Yet Nam

Ong Yet Nam was the first born son of Ong Yip Doy and Seto Shee. He was born in 1886 in rural Doung Moon Lei Village, Wu Lung, Hoiping, Guangdung, China, and died at the age of 43 in a tragic boating accident on the Pearl River in Canton, China.

In those 43 years he lived a full life, spending about 20 years in the U.S. as a student and a chemist. Thanks to the careful preservation of photos by his son Ken Ang, the archival collections of the Marin History Museum, oral histories from family members, photos by Roy Chan, and resources on the internet, we have been able to piece together his very interesting and adventurous life.

In 1901 at the age of 15, Ong Yet Nam immigrated to the US, probably under student status. He would have come by steamship and entered the US at the port of San Francisco. Most likely, he made contact with Ong family pioneers Ong Sen Shek and Ong Kai Yip in San Francisco Chinatown. These two elders are considered two of the first Ong family members to have come to the US and operated a Chinese Herb shop together at 838 Grant Ave in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown. Information from a number of sources suggest that the extended Ong family under the leadership of Ong Sen Shek provided the financial support for Ong Yet Nam to obtain an education in the United States.

From 1903 to 1910, Ong Yet Nam attended Mt. Tamalpais Military Academy in San Rafael, CA. This was a private all-boys boarding school training in the classics, literature, business, art, cavalry, infantry, and artillery. From 1910-1912, he attended the University of California at Berkeley.From 1912-1916, he was at Stanford University, graduating with an A.B. (now considered a BS) in Chemistry.

After graduation, he worked as a chemist for General Electric in New York, and then with the Stanley Aniline Chemical Works in Pennsyvlania.

Ong Yet Nam returned to China around 1921-1922, and built the Hing Ah Match Factory in Honaam, Canton, China, which was to be the first unit of the Canton Industries Co.

Upon his return to China, he married and started his family. He married Loo Shee and had his first child Kwok Kuerng (Ken Ang, b. 1923). Loo Shee died in 1924. He later married Jane Ng and had two children, son Kwok Kuen (b.1927) and daughter Wai Wah (b. 1929).

Ong Yet Nam died in 1929 in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China.


A son and grandson of immigrants from Guangdong province in China dating back to 1901, Roy Chan was born at Chinese Hospital in San Francisco Chinatown and grew up in East Oakland. He studied architecture at UC Berkeley, urban planning at UCLA, and taught at New York University and Mills College.  Roy has practiced architecture and city planning in firms and municipalities across the country including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston. He also served as Executive Director of the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.
Now practicing as both a planner and oral historian, Roy’s interdisciplinary and neighborhood based work centers around one singular goal: to build community through place-based storytelling. He is currently Co-Director of the Oakland Chinatown Oral History Project and Community Planning Manager at Chinatown Community Development Center in San Francisco.

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