The Titanic and our tiyo’s tall tales

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

In February of 1912, the painting of the Titanic neared completion. As we know, 1912 was the beginning and the end of the Titanic. Once dubbed as the world’s unsinkable ship when it made its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, its sinking has become a constant interest for many people.

It especially captured everyone’s interest and attention in February 1997 when James Cameron’s “Titanic” was released in the Philippines. It was dubbed as the biggest movie of the year (and it went on to win big in the Oscars) and I remember that I and my friends went to watch it as soon as it was released theatrically. My generation was attached to the Leonardo di Caprio-Kate Winslet film, which still brings tears to our eyes every time we re-watch it even until today, so I was particularly excited to discover that a Titanic exhibition was running at the Melbourne Museum the same time I was to be in Australia.

As I’ve been in New Zealand since February 13, and had decided to go to Melbourne for a short visit, it was a no-brainer that I should not miss the exhibit. It featured genuine artifacts recovered from the Titanic wreckage, such as suitcases, wallets, parts of the ship, and more. The exhibit was informative, touching, and a constant reminder of the disparity between the rich and poor.

Although the Titanic’s sinking was more of a Western tragedy, there was still some form of Filipino connection to the famous shipping disaster. At least one Filipino publication, the Filipino Education magazine, reported a very short feature a few months after the ship’s sinking. A few other locally-printed papers also mentioned the disaster, but the most interesting connection to the Philippines was several portions of the Titanic senate inquiry when several people interrogated by the United States senate mentioned the discovery of several “Filipinos” who were, for most intents and purposes, stowaways.

Unfortunately, history does not really provide a clear picture on these “Filipino” stowaways. In fact, the accepted narrative was that among those rescued were six Chinese, who stowed themselves away in one of the vessel’s lifeboats before it left England. Some witnesses insisted that the stowaways were Filipinos, although one or two also said they were Japanese. Nevertheless, it is interesting that while we have always been accused of claiming “Filipino ubiquity” in most events (whether positive or negatives) or our constant and proud claim of Filipino blood in many celebrities all over the world, this time it was not a Filipino claiming that Filipinos were present during the Titanic’s sinking, but a foreigner who was being questioned during the Titanic senate inquiry.

On a personal note, family lore has it that in his last letter, Juan Lucero informed his family back in Argao that he had gotten married to a European woman, that they were having their honeymoon in Europe, and that soon he and his wife would go to America aboard a new ship that had caused quite a lot of talks and stir in England. His letter, or so the family tale claims, stated that the ship’s name was Titanic. No other letter was received from Juan after this.

Records online made available for free by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has proven that Juan was not on the Titanic. The working theory we have today was that either his family back in Argao misunderstood or confused his letter with the news about the Titanic’s sinking, or that Juan Lucero fudged his news to his family to make his new life more interesting. But for years we thought a Cebuano was on the Titanic!

The Titanic’s story is a tale of many dimensions; a tragedy, a cautionary tale, and a constant reminder of inequality. However one sees it, it remains to this day a constant fascination of the world.

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