Curiosity, Adventure & Love: Why this 105-year-old American migrant is more Filipino than most of us

With a smile so welcoming and enthralling, her picturesque American face may deceive you.

She is actually more Filipino than most of us. 

Jessie Lichauco, 105, is one who has seen it all, and done it all in her power to serve the country that embraced her since marrying Marcial P. Lichauco, a distinguished Filipino lawyer and diplomat.

Active participant

Her story encapsulated in the first-person documentary Curiosity, Adventure & Love shows how she laid witness to important chapters in Philippine history first hand. And, more than that, she actually became an active participant in the struggles of the Filipinos, especially in those harrowing years of the Second World War, wherein during the Battle Of Manila, she opened the doors of her home to refugees of the carnage. 

Independent minded, a woman of action, humanitarian, social worker, and best of all a dedicated and loving wife and mother, Jessie serves as an icon to many. But for Tita Jessie, it’s just her—always there to lend a helping hand.

Helmed by her granddaughter, filmmaker Sunshine Lichauco de Leon, the documentary traverses all the important chapters of contemporary Philippine history, and highlights how they relate to her vivacious, beaming and engaging persona, who touched lives during those days of glory and gloom.

Inspiring journey

While Curiosity, Adventure & Love can be a historical piece worthy of academic discussion, it is more about her inspiring journey as an individual, who embarked on a life-changing decision to journey to the Philippines from the United States traveling on a ship only by herself. 

It details what made her to decide to migrate and how she became acquainted with the nationalist Marcial, whom she met while he was part of the OSROX Philippine independence mission in Washington, D.C. in the early 1930s. Then, as a daring 18-year-old, Jessie accepted Marcial’s invitation to come to the Philippines, and she never looked back, marrying Marcial within days of her arrival.

The retelling further puts the spotlight on how she embraced her new country, adjusting and accepting the culture, and best of all engaging with her countrymen. She has since been known as Tita Jessie, by all whom she touched and inspired, with that local tinge of endearment. 

And of course, walking side by side with Filipinos in their darkest hour during World War II and supporting their cause towards redemption. She, with the help of her husband, also helped hundreds of unprivileged to complete their education and find jobs, while joining and leading charitable institutions such as the Settlement House or the Asociacion de Damas de Filipinas.

Magnificent residence

Quite a stirring element in the documentary was featuring her magnificent residence where she has been living since taking refuge there during liberation. Now called the Lichauco Heritage House by virtue of a National Historical Commission proclamation in 2010, it speaks volumes about her personality—unchanging, firm and constant. It is located along the Pasig River in Santa Ana, Manila with the stunning and captivating long-standing two centuries-old Banyan (balete) tree, which Jessie relates to as a figure of strength, grace, and resilience. 

Jessie has since been awarded Filipino citizenship bestowed by an Act of Congress, RA 10356, signed by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2012 for helping the Filipino people.

There is certainly more to learn about this incredible lady by watching this documentary, which was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the World Premieres Philippines Film Festival last year. It airs this Sunday, March 19 on Sunday’s Best (after Gandang Gabi Vice) as part of ABS-CBN’s commemoration of International Women’s Month.

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