Looking at the history of Negros from the establishment of the first Spanish settlement at Binalbagan in late 1565 to the present time, one cannot help but see the wheel of time passing by this island paradise. Much of what Negros was shapped the minds and hearts of the present-day Negrénses. From a wilderness as late as 1800’s, Spanish, French and Chinese landowners transformed this formerly backward Spanish possession into a boomtown. From useless piece of scattered properties, the original hacienderos converted Negros and her lands into a millionaire enterprise. This was not easy feat at all even though they and their descendants lived like Europe’s age old aristocrats in this jade-colored landscape. An image of a Negrénse became that of a decadent soul, indulging in pleasure and thinking of nothing but fun. Outside peoples both admire and despise the Negrénse way of life. The sugar crisis of the 1980’s rocked this island society and much has changed, though slowly and gradually.
What defines a Negrénse? Is it the old prevailing stereotyped mix of cowboy and aristocrat that came to be since the high times of the island’s prosperity or the resilience of its people that actually created this bustling society? We have to look at both the past and present of Negrénses, whether still living in the island or have moved to distant shores. I myself am a Negrénse living on the distant shores we call Metropolitan Manila. The life of a Negrénse beyond the island maybe is what describes the best a Negrénse. Yes, a Negrénse was and still is a lover of fun, indulging in clean pleasures when opportunity strikes but behind this overarching image is a hardworking Negrénse toiling day and night to support himself and the family. What gives him this very chance at enjoying these simple and sometimes elegant pleasures are due to the inherent zeal of a Negrénse to get things done whilst not losing a chance to risk something in order to gain much. If you deal only with the stereotype of a Negrénse, this is not much understandable to you but if you look closely at the hard crude days of Negros before and after its golden period, this would make sense.
What defined the Negrénse is not the elegance of good times but the bittersweet potion of hard times. Negros has gone through hard times too when insurgency was on the rise, the sugar economy fell, 60% of its poor population were starving and a number of its intellectual elite were killed by a sea tragedy. The once wave-riding peoples were humbled by these circumstances. It is through these times that the Negrénse found its real self, the genuine Negrénse that time has simply forgotten. The Negrénse realized his own shortcomings, humbled himself and picked up the pieces of his former self in faith. What then defined the real Negrénse? It is of humility and faith. Those who succeeded from downfall are the very ones with the heart to see himself in the mirror, admit his own mistakes and helping others do so too.
Now, Negros is on its feet again but the continuous defining of the Negrénse continues up to this present day. There are still weeds that need to be pulled out from the hairs of Negrénse society. While a Negrénse learned how to humble himself and build on his present circumstances, he must realize that he needs to have a genuine heart for others too. The Negrénse must learned to pull the crab in himself and instead work for the common good of not just himself but of others around him. I am very pleased with the fact that a lot of Negrénses have begun to look not just in their own circle but beyond it. On its shores it now welcomes other people to share in the bounty it now lives. Just as the island is more than just merely sugar, the Negrénse is more than just a person of fun, he is a person who lives life’s lessons himself.