By Manny Crisostomo
Johnny Cepeda Gogo felt he was destined for a military career just like his father and his uncles.
“That was my plan. I (wanted) to follow in the footsteps of my father’s career and because my father was career military, I absolutely knew that I was going into the military,” Gogo said. “When I graduated from high school I thought I wanted to go to college first to get my college degree before I went to the military so that’s what I did.”
Gogo would not only follow in his father’s footsteps but also scores of CHamoru brothers and sisters who enlisted to see the world, provide opportunities for their family, and strive for excellence in the armed services.
But fulfilling his military predestination wasn’t meant to be, as fate, destiny and the law bestowed a new destination.
“I graduated from UC San Diego and I applied to officer candidate school but I didn’t score high enough, and so I did not get accepted,” Gogo said. “As a result I went to plan B, and for me, plan B was law school.”
His plan B was as good as it gets, and 25 years after graduating from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, the 53-year-old Guam native is a judge for the Santa Clara County Superior Court in California.
Recently Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, in a letter to President Joe Biden, recommended him for an appointment as the U.S. attorney overseeing Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The influences and benefits of traveling and growing up around the world in a CHamoru military household is evident in his life and his law career.
Gogo was born in an Army hospital in Germany as the middle child of five to Jesus Crisostomo Gogo of Sinajana and Remedious Dydasco Cepeda of Barrigada.
His father was an Army Green Beret and the family moved every three years from base to base, in Europe, Asia, Alaska and across the continental United States.
The family even had a short stint on Guam when the Army still had a base. Gogo had fond memories of being around extended family, playing with his cousins, going to C.L. Taitano Elementary and being an altar boy at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Parish in Sinajana. But after three years, the family had to move again.
Growing up, Johnny Gogo said his father would try to have CHamoru language lesson plans for him and his siblings.
The CHamoru lessons never really stuck, though. “(But) we were always staying in touch with family, writing letters, or making phone calls, “ he said. “For me growing up, I always had the sense of Guam in the household and this longing, which is why I went back after graduating from law school to work for GovGuam.”
He began his law career as a prosecutor with the Guam Attorney General’s Office in 1997 and later moved to work as an associate attorney with the law firm of Calvo & Clark.
“Returning home after being away for 17 years from elementary school (C.L. Taitano) to finishing law school, people still remembered me and recognized me and welcomed me back with open arms,” he said.
He returned stateside in 2001 and worked as deputy district attorney at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for nearly two decades before being appointed in 2019 as a Superior Court judge by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
His father passed away while in law school, and wasn’t there to see his professional achievements. “My father actually implanted in my mind that I had to go to college and become a doctor, engineer or lawyer.”
But his mother and family were there when he was sworn in as judge. “My mom just wanted to make sure that I was happy doing whatever I chose to do.
“I am very grateful because if it weren’t for the military, then we wouldn’t have traveled the world and we wouldn’t have had the experiences. Myself and my brothers and sisters benefited from that opportunity to grow up around the world and be more open-minded,” Gogo said.
“That has made me a better person in the sense that I think I am able to understand and appreciate different cultures, different races, different ethnicities, different customs. Those lessons still are with me as I take the bench every day or when I went to the office as a prosecutor.”
Gogo is still waiting to hear from the Biden administration about his nomination for the U.S. Attorney position, which he views as a dream job plus it will quench his desire and longing to return back home to Guam. But he also loves being a Superior Court judge.
“I view it as a win-win situation because if I am blessed and the president offers me the U.S. Attorney position, that is absolutely a win for me, but if it doesn’t happen I am also in a winning position because of the dream job as a Superior Court judge,” he said.
He smiled, paused for a while and added, “I always got my eye on returning back home to Guam.”
Manaotao Sanlagu is Manny Crisostomo’s ongoing visual documentary of CHamorus from the Marianas living overseas that is featured weekly in the PDN. If you or someone you know would like to be part of this documentary or wish to support this project, contact Crisostomo at sanlagu.com. The project is sponsored in part by Brand Marinade, a CHamoru-owned creative agency in the San Francisco Bay Area.