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Interview with Juan Manuel Guerra-Hernandez

Guerra-HernandezAn interview with Juan Manuel Guerra-Hernandez, Fulbright Scholar in Residence

Q. First, how do you like your name used?

A. Let me start by saying that this is the first question you ask someone you meet for the first time. What is your name or last name?

In my case, coming from a culture that fosters the idea of using both our parents, we use our names like this:

a. - One first name and two last names
b. - Two first names and two last names
c. - Three first names and two last names

As you can see, the common element is the use of both last names, the first from the father and the second from the mother. So you can use either Juan Manuel Guerra-Hernandez or just Guerra-Hernandez.

Q. You have an impressive resume in dance and education. How did you become interested in coming to ONU?

A. I had my first dance performance when I was only four years old. I was in kindergarten and I danced what is considered our national Mexican song called "El Jarabe Tapatio" also known as The Hat Song in the United States. I studied dance and got involved with all kinds of types from modern, contemporary, flamenco to folkloric. After I finished teaching school in 1977, I decided to stay with folkloric since this was the kind of dance I was going to use with my students in elementary.

Even though I have been involved with teacher training through Macmillan Publishers all over Mexico and had given workshops in National and International Conventions for English Teachers, dance has always been my true passion.

When I saw the opportunity of applying for a grant in dance at ONU, I decided right away to apply for it. I started putting all the paperwork required by COMEXUS Comision Mexico Estados Unidos and CIES Council for International Exchange of Scholars. I just retired on Oct. 1, 2008, after 32 years in teaching so I thought what a great opportunity to do something I have always loved at this point in my life.

I had an interview with Dr. Nils Riess in Monterrey, my home town, in November last year and, after his approval and being accepted, the whole process to come to Ada started. I presented a project to be developed for a better understanding between the Mexican and American cultures. This project included as a major factor the use of dance and culture in a project with dance students from Communication and Arts Department at Ohio Northern University.

Q. Tell us about the performance you are planning.

A. The fundamental principle of this project is to find that even though we come from different cultures being Mexican and American, we share more similarities than we can think of. If we take a journey into the past and start reviewing both our histories, we will see how the influence of other cultures such as the African and Spanish cultures had influenced the way we are in the present.

Dancing is not the exception to this guideline. The performance, as part of this Fulbright project, will show through a voyage to the past how the dances in Mexico have evolved. Particularly, we will be able to see how the dances called Sones Jarochos in the state of Veracruz have been influenced by the culture and traditions of the African and Spanish cultures.

The general proposal is not just to keep this contact with the Mexican culture at Ohio Northern University but also to take it to local schools and other cities so teachers and students as well benefit from the possibility of being in touch with other ways of living and other customs and traditions. People involved in this project, I included, had put together a teacher´s packet that will give teachers the opportunity of developing many different extracurricular activities that are closely related to their curricula. By doing this, students will start learning more about the Mexican culture and find a close connection with the American culture before they watch the dance demonstration on stage.

Q. What do you hope ONU students will learn from this production?

A. First of all, I hope that having a contact with music and dance from Mexico will expand their cultural horizons so to see that even though coming from different countries, music and dance are universal arts and they are somehow related.

Second, being in touch with someone from a different country will help them enrich their views on life, culture and the world itself. When we see how things are done in other places in the world and listen to different opinions and points of view, the way we perceive the world gets richer and richer.

Third, I hope the learning taking place in the dance studio with students involved in this Fulbright Project, and through all the related activities planned on campus, reaches other students and people involved in the community as well as in their own families.

Finally, my biggest hope is that, through this experience, students will grow as a person, a professional dancer and most of all as a human being. All this enrichment in time will make them able to understand that there is only one world we share every day and our job is to make it better for future generations.

Q. What do you hope to learn or experience in your time at ONU?

A. For one thing I know I will learn more about dance and grow more as a teacher. Being in touch with other professionals in the field will give me other ways of looking at teaching and education.

On the other hand, I know for sure I will be able to see that the world stereotype, being cold and unfriendly, foreigners have of the American culture does not apply to this community. I know already there is a big difference with what I think I know and what I have been able to see on campus and around Ada. People are very nice and friendly. They always greet you with a smile and are always there to help you in any way.

I hope I will learn more about myself and my culture by being in touch with the American culture. I will learn other ways of teaching, a different view of education and I will learn more from listening to other points of view. Sometimes it takes another person to show you a different way of thinking or approaching a problem and finding the right solution to solve it.

Something I have noticed is the fact that the idea of teamwork is not just a concept but a way of acting and reacting here at Ohio Northern University. When concepts, like teamwork, do not take place in real life they stay just as theory and does not do anything for anyone.

Q. You only arrived a few weeks ago, but what are your first impressions of ONU and Ada, Ohio?

A. I have to say that after I accepted the challenge, I did not even know where Ada was on a map. I knew it was a small town in the rural area of Ohio. I started searching the internet, such a wonderful tool, to learn more about the city and the university as well.

During this research on Ada, fond memories of teaching came back to me. I started working as an elementary teacher in 1977 in a very small community, called San Sebastian, with a population of only 120 people. It was located in the mountains of Santiago and to get to it I had to take a bus and then walk three and a half hours up the mountains. So to me, Ada was big in comparison with that little town in Santiago, Mexico.

After I landed in Dayton´s Airport on Jan. 19, the students that picked me up and drove me here were telling me how Ada was and what to find in it. They told me there was nothing here and that they were so happy they recently had their first McDonald´s open in town. They gave me a ride around town but I could not see anything because everything was covered with snow. To me it was beautiful to see everything being white with snow. I come from a city where it never snows so my first contact with Ada was very exciting.

Every time I have a chance to talk to a student, or even a member of the faculty, I seem to always get the same feeling of belonging to a school or job that they say they like a lot. This feeling takes you deeper into what they are experiencing as a human being. For one thing, when I ask a student why they like it, the answer is always the same; "Because they care about me here." On the other hand when I ask a teacher they tell me; "Everybody gets involved here one way or another and I stayed here because I am an important element to help others."

If I think closely at the students´ statement saying "There´s nothing in Ada," there might be some truth in it, geographically speaking, but I can really say there is a lot in Ada. A big heart inside everybody here at ONU that welcomes everyone as their own home and also, a lot of commitment from students and teachers to do their jobs the best they can.

Q. Tell us a little about becoming a Fulbright Visiting Scholar.

A. I was invited to a reception on Feb. 2 and I was very surprised that I am the first Fulbright Scholar in Residence that comes to ONU. During his speech at the reception, Dr. Baker said that Dr. Nils Riess and Dr. Laurie Bell had been trying for several occasions, with no success, to get a grant for a visiting scholar in dance. He added that this is the first time ever to host a visiting scholar in dance at ONU.

I feel honored to be the first scholar here and at the same time I am very excited about the possibility of being able not only to share my culture but learn more about the American culture as well. I have to say that I am enjoying the fact that I am working with dance as a true passion that had fulfilled my life in many ways.

I will share everything I learned from this experience with other scholars in Mexico. I hope I will be able to show them there is an open door to other possibilities and opportunities for growing and learning.


I would like to share with you two of my main set of laws in my life. A long time ago I learned that it should, and would, be regulated by two major principles or laws; The Boomerang Law where everything you send away eventually comes back to you and the people you love, so always send positive and rewarding feelings because they will, in time, come back to you. The second I called it the Mirror Law, everything you see happening around you is a reflection of your own inside image. If you see a positive or negative feeling around you, its existence is due to the fact that it is only reflecting what is inside of you.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity of sharing my most precious insight treasures on life and education with you.

Juan Manuel Guerra-Hernandez