Emma Perez is co-founder and President of 500 Sails, a Northern Mariana Islands non-profit organization dedicated to bringing traditional canoe culture back into the daily lives of the people of the Marianas. Emma moved from San Francisco, California to Saipan with her husband Pete Perez in 2013 in order to establish 500 Sails where her 30 years of non-profit finance and accounting experience, including oversight of millions of federal funds, have been critical to the organization’s success. In addition to heading the business operation, she develops programs, writes and manages grants, conducts outreach, develops partnerships in both government and private sectors, and teaches swimming and sailing to 500 Sails program participants.
Her programmatic work started in earnest when she was part of the all-Chamorro, all-family Chamorro Flying Proa English Channel Relay Team that successfully swam the English Channel in 13 hours and 7 minutes in 2007. This was done to raise funds for the 47-foot Chamorro Sakman Che’lu that was subsequently built and has become part of the 500 Sails’ fleet.
Emma’s work as a Chamorro cultural leader is well-known in the Marianas and has earned her numerous accolades, including the Guam Governor’s Ambassador at Large award in 2012 for her work promoting Guam’s cultural heritage, and most recently the 2019 Northern Mariana Islands Governor’s Humanities Award for “Outstanding Humanities Teacher”. While her work has touched many lives in the Marianas, what she has often said what she is most proud of is that for the first time after hundreds of years, children born in the Marianas will have canoes in their lives, all their lives.
Emma Perez is a Chamorro elder and co-founder of 500 Sails, a CNMI non-profit cultural organization dedicated to restoring the Chamorro maritime tradition in the Mariana Islands. A big part of her work is outreach to youth, teaching about the Chamorro and Carolinian maritime traditions and “planting a seed in the minds of the listeners that will grow into a desire to participate in traditional canoe culture”. Emma is excited to be part of Project HOPE where elders will guide youth to an understanding of how closely our lives are tied to the ocean that has shaped our island society and sustained our people for millennia.