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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, October 21, 2016
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia



Thirty seven years ago the people of Bacolod and Negros were in trouble. The sugar industry was collapsing. Poor people were going hungry, and even the well-heeled of Negros were reeling from the horror of the M/V Don Juan tragedy. Our forebears were down and almost out.

In typical Negrense fashion, we somehow found a way to dig deep, smile, and think of a reason to celebrate. Because the pain and suffering then was too raw to ignore, we chose to start a festival that featured smiling masks, street dancing, and the consumption of copious amounts of cheap food and alcohol.

The MassKara festival was born and through the ups and downs of the changing times, we continued to party and wear those colorful masks every third weekend of October.

We wore the masks as therapy during the sugar crisis. When Filipinos finally kicked out the dictator whose greed and selfishness caused the ruin of our sugar industry, we continued wearing those colorful and intricate masks, even if we were genuinely smiling inside by then. We wore those masks every October as we rebuilt our island and regained our prosperity.

We continued to wear those masks even when the MassKara festival lost steam and maybe even its soul. And we wore those masks with a vengeance when the festival was upgraded and supersized. Many of us may have forgotten the real reason why we celebrate with those masks, but many continue to be proud of the way the MassKara festival has survived, evolved, and thrived throughout all those years.

As we prepare to partake of the merrymaking, the revelry and the celebration of this year's MassKara festival, let us take a few moments to think of the origins of MassKara and see if the smiling masks we will be wearing this year are reflections of the way we see our lives or if like the original MassKara masks of yore, we are hiding something dark and worrying behind those masks and the merrymaking.

As the MassKara festival has improved with every year, focusing on the good life more than the trials that brought it about, our lives should also be constantly improving. We may have worn the masks to hide our troubles in the early 1980's, but hopefully, many of us are genuinely smiling when we endure the minor inconveniences such as the traffic as we celebrate this year's MassKara festival with friends and loved ones. Let us make the MassKara festival a reason to truly celebrate how far our lives have improved, wearing real smiles and drinking to celebrate victories instead of wearing masks to temporarily hide our worries and drink to forget our problems.

Let the merrymaking, the parties, and the revelry also give us the opportunity to strip ourselves of the figurative masks that we have been wearing in the past few months as we deal with the divisions that are currently plaguing our country. Maybe we can trade in the fake smiles for genuine friendship and understanding, even if it is only for this weekend. No bashing, no hasty judgments and generalizations, no trolling and automatic blocking. Wouldn't it be awesome we could find it within our hearts to heal the divisions that have been forming and do away with the figurative plastic masks we've been donning around friends who don't share our opinions? This year's MassKara festival could be the start of that unmasking that leads to us accepting our “friends” even if we don't like what they don't look like without their masks.

No matter what happens, the people of Negros and Bacolod have only one choice this weekend. Stay home to avoid the crowds or have fun. Those who are going out to have fun will have more genuine fun if they do it without the masks.

Going merrymaking without the mask is going to be a risk. But it might just tell you who your friends really are and what they really think of you.

Enjoy the weekend!*

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