Herman T. Guerrero
National Humanities Medal
Herman T. Guerrero's nickname, "Jun Pan," tells a piece of his family history and a small piece of the history of the Northern Mariana Islands as well. He inherited the name from his father, who was interned in the islands by the Americans at the beginning of World War II. His father was pressed into service as a baker for the native prisoners at Camp Susupe; he proved so successful that the military asked him to stay on as the islands' civilian baker after the war. He was called Pan, or "Bread," and his son proudly bears the name of Jun Pan, "Bread Junior."
Guerrero is working to reclaim the islands' colonial history and the legacy of the native Chamorro people, who were nearly wiped out by Spanish colonists in the seventeenth century. He serves on the board of directors of several companies, including his family bakery, and has worked on the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) Humanities Council since 1992.
One of his and the council's efforts is the Genealogy Project, which is being conducted with the help of the University of Guam's Micronesian Area Research Center. Guerrero sees "a tremendous growth in native islanders' interests in tracing their ancestral roots."
He also helped create "Spain in the Marianas: First Contact and Aftermath" with the Northern Mariana Islands Museum of History, as well as displays on linguistics, religion, and cross-culturalism.
In the course of four hundred years, the islands passed from Spanish to German to Japanese rule, becoming an U.S. territory in 1947. In 1978 they became a Commonwealth, and in 1985 islanders were granted partial U.S. citizenship. Over the same stretch of time, the islands moved from the era of galleon trade to the nuclear age.
Guerrero's personal history reflects some of the complexity of the islands. He went to high school in Saipan and Guam, received a B.A. in Sociology from St. John's University in Minnesota, and did graduate work at the University of South Florida. He has served as a Representative in the Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature, and has worked in the CNMI Office of the Governor and in the Department of Education.
In all of his projects, Guerrero seeks social cohesiveness by documenting the past and promoting discussion for a population that has culture, language, and generation gaps left from its colonial past. An exhibition on the islands' Japanese era is on display at the CNMI Museum until July 2001, and Guerrero is working with the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa to obtain the oldest records of the Chamorran people. He is also promoting a museum exhibition on the U.S. portion of the islands' administrative history.
As he sees it, "The humanities and humanities education allows the indigenous people of the Northern Mariana Islands Archipelago a rediscovery and an affirmation of their native identity. It also allows them the wherewithal to tackle the modern day challenges that they face as they continue to forge their way within the political, economic, and social spheres of an increasingly global community."