“You Know You’re From Bacolod City, Philippines If…” is a virtual community of Bacoleños and Negrénses in the social networking site, Facebook. The page is a hodgepodge of topics ranging from jokes back home to serious issues like corruption, tourism, heritage and crime. One of the most intriguing If posted is You Know You’re from Bacolod City, Philippines If… “…you are still confused whether to call yourself Negrense/Bacolodnon or Ilonggo?” posted by a resident doctor in a certain private hospital in Bacolód City. The thread gathered an amount of following since it touches on matters of our identity as a people. I cannot help but post certain reactions to this, some mild, some violent. In order to shed light into this matter, we should study the social profile or some history in both Iloilo Province and Negros. Clarifications must also be placed in order to clear out some fallacies that have been around as to which we already consider a norm.
Just to put things into perspective, both provinces predominantly speak a language called “Hiligaynon”. Hiligaynon is a language that became a dominant in the Province of Iloilo and immigrants to the island we now know as Negros. It is believed that this language developed from Karay-a, the language of the highland natives up to the present time who escaped the coasts as Spanish colonization set in. Although commonly called “Ilonggo” since it is closely linked to the Iloilo Province where it came from, it is anthropologically incorrect since Ilonggo refers to the people who lived in the area called Irong-Irong or Ilong-Ilong which we now know as Iloilo. I have always emphasized that Hiligaynon is the name of the dominant Western Visayan language and not Ilonggo, which refers to the residents of Iloilo.
Though most of the people in Negros Occidental are descendants of Ilonggos, these immigrants, together with the Spaniards, Frenchmen and Chinese who sought new lands for planting sugarcane in the virgin lands of Negros, created a society distinct from where they came from. Although linguistically related to the people of Iloilo, seclusion and economic circumstances consequentially developed the Negrénse identity. Noted as well that these two related peoples are in constant conflict with each other because they have different social norms. For example, people from Negros as qualified as extravagant and happy-go-lucky while their Iloilo cousins are known to be thrifty and cautious in investing their time or resources. This vast difference in social norms created an irreversible cultural gap which is seen greatly in the present. Random but funny fact it is that people from Iloilo accuse the people of Negros of being boastful or tikalon while the people of Negros answer back that people from Iloilo are overly spendthrifts or kuripot. What does this have to do with the question, am I Ilonggo or Negrénse?
Stating the obvious, the residents of Negros Occidental are not residents of Iloilo. Negros Occidental has a separate provincial government with voters and at one point in history established a fully-functioning democracy independent from the government in Aguinaldo’s Malolos. So are people from Negros Ilonggos or Negrénses? Some who argue point out to the language as a determining factor of our being “Ilonggo” but I have cleared the fact that the Hiligaynon language is divorced from the Ilonggo identity since the earlier is a language, while the latter is a people group. Also, people from Davao never called themselves Cebúano even though they speak the language of Cebú, as with residents of Bohol and Siquijor who speak the same. Likewise, even people from Zamboanga call themselves Zamboangueño regardless of which province of the Peninsula they came from. Even our brothers and sisters in the Oriental side of the Island called themselves as Negrénses and not Cebuano. Why are we in a quandary with the identity of Negros Occidental’s residents if in the Oriental side of the island, it is a non-issue. Worth mentioning is a friend of mine who tells people who ask her where she is from that she is from Negros and she lives in Bacolód City.
As a people advancing culturally and economically, Negrénses need to mould an identity that is our their own. Negrénses live in an irony of having an island separated between two regions when in fact they both share the same beautiful island we call Negros. Having a unique identity will enable Negros Occidental to promote its tourism well and boast its heritage that is uniquely made in Negros. Occidental Negrénses need to reach out with their Oriental Negrénse brothers and sisters. A famous quotation said that a house divided is a house doomed to fall. Negrénses need to chart their own destinies as a unique people. Both Negrénses are charming people, full of smiles and friendly with only the language as a barrier. When I meet Negrénses from Oriental, I feel a certain affinity to them because we share a common land that nourished us and made us grow. People from Don Salvador Benedicto, through Bacolód, down to Hinobaan and Canlaon City, through Dumaguete, down to Bayawan are Negrénses culturally and by affinity. If you ask me, am I an Ilonggo or a Negrénse? Without hesitation, I would smilingly and proudly say “I AM A NEGRÉNSE!”