Brief Chat: Hope Cristobal, first and foremost, a nurturer
Updated: May 3
By Johanna Salinas
“It's not about me. It can’t be just about me,” Nobel Peace Prize nominee Hope Cristobal said, dedicating her nomination to her home island. “This nomination really highlights Guam and our people.”
The former Guam senator is in the company of Pope Francis, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and British environmentalist David Attenborough among others.
According to the Nobel Committee, there are 343 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 out of which 251 are individuals and 92 are organizations. The Oslo-based committee will announce this year's laureate in October. Last year, the prize went to two journalists fighting for freedom of speech, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Russia's Dmitry Muratov.
“You can’t forge peace as an individual. Peace must be forged by many. That formula has to come out,” Cristobal said. “You can be at peace with yourself but what does that mean? That means little if anything.”
Cristobal inspires and is inspired by indigenous women in the Pacific island region. “To me, the nomination is a product of all of this activity, this energy that women have. I don't claim it alone. It is a product of the energy of indigenous Pacific women. I just happened to be there at these occurrences, at these events,” said the former senator, who is a representative of the Guam Coalition for Peace and Justice, which advocates for CHamoru rights at the United Nations.
Cristobal, who served as a senator from 1995 to 1997, was the sponsor of local statutes that created the Commission on Decolonization and established the CHamoru registry.
Cristobal earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s in education at the University of Guam, where she used to teach history. She completed doctoral classes at the University of Eugene in Oregon. She is the chair of the CHamoru Language Commission and the director of the Guam Museum.
While she has held many titles through the years, Cristobal sees herself first and foremost as a nurturer.
In 2019, Cristobal coordinated the CHinemma', Nina'maolek, yan Inarespetu para Direchon Taotao, a conference that focused on building a self-sustaining Pacific beyond the military economy.
“The conference had Pohnpei women. We had Okinawa women and women from the Philippines,” Cristobal said. “The whole energy level that indigenous Pacific women have is amazing. These women are mindful of life as it is and how life can be better. Because we are nurturers, we are defined by nature nurturers.”
As an activist, Cristobal is not afraid of confrontation. “At the Black Lives Matter rally in Hagatna last year, there were counter-protestors harassing us,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid to back down. There are always people out there who will challenge you. These are just a part of the journey. It can be hard because I am an educator. I went to the BLM rally because I want to show my support for oppressed people. I follow the news and I'm aware that innocent people are getting killed just because of their skin color. We need to see each other beyond the color of our skin.”
As an educator, she favors peaceful debates. “There are methodologies associated with debates. And when confronted, especially at that moment, it's like, whoa, I better get myself in gear here and defend,” she said. “And I do defend my beliefs. I have to because when push comes to shove, you've got to show strength. You've got to show a more informed way of doing things. It's not just about the physicality of it. It’s about the mentality of it. And so you learn.”
Notwithstanding the global recognition that comes with the Nobel nomination, Cristobal remains humble. “I’m glad I'm just here to enjoy my life. I reflect on how I grew up in the ranch without electricity or running water, but with a catchment system,” she said.
Cristobal is the oldest of eight children. At a young age, she looked after her siblings after their parents divorced when she was 11.
“By that time most kids were just learning how to make rice or care for yourself,” she recalled. “I had to care for my siblings and do their socks and shoes in the morning. I had to be like a second mother to my siblings. I washed clothes with the washboard. We would walk from the ranch to school at C.L. Taitano.”
As a single parent, Cristobal’s mother had to work harder. “My mom had to work as a cafeteria aide at C.L. Taitano and a waitress at night,” she said.
On behalf of her mother, the young Cristobal attended the Parent-Teacher Association meetings. “I became the secretary of the PTA as a young kid,” she said.
Growing up, Cristobal was surrounded by women who had a big influence on her traditional values. “I was raised by my mother and her oldest sister. My auntie was like a stay-at-home mom for us,” she said.
Cristobal is proud of being raised with CHamoru values and hopes that the current generation can perpetuate them.
“I'm currently in a women’s focus group,” she said. “We’re just a bunch of old people contributing our approach to handling some cultural aspect or discipline as older saina. In this focus group, there are about 12 of us and we get together to contribute to the understanding of inafa’maolek (the miracle of our coming together), ginefli’e’ (brotherhood and sisterhood), inaguaiya (love among us).”