More than 20 years later, still searching for Mhanny

April 30, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

FUNNY HOW you come upon stories in this business.

One day, you're in the newsroom, beating the bushes for a column, when a friend calls you over to his desk. He's working on a story about commercial shipping and is studying the Sailors Union of the Pacific Web site, which maybe three people in the entire world have ever called up.

Look, he says, someone has posted a curious e-mail:

"Can anyone help me? I am looking for a man of Filipino decent who in 1979 was working on a ship named Tropical Sea. His name is Mhanny Dela Cruz. The ship was here in Baltimore in said year. Any help is appreciated."

Might be something for you, this friend says.

At that moment, it is all you can do not to kiss this guy.

So you e-mail this person looking for Mhanny Dela Cruz, tell this person you're a reporter, ask this person to call if he or she has a story to tell.

The next day, the phone rings, and Anna Feliciano is on the other end.

Turns out she's been looking for Mhanny Dela Cruz for a long time, more than 20 years.

Turns out Mhanny Dela Cruz is the father of her firstborn child.

Turns out she sure does have a story to tell. These days, Anna Feliciano is 41 and lives with three of her four kids in Dundalk, where she's separated from her husband. But in 1978, she was an 18-year-old named Anna Lutz who lived in Baltimore and hung out with an adventurous group of girls who all had a thing for Filipino men.

They would see these Filipinos, many of them merchant seamen, laughing and strutting down Eastern Avenue and drinking in the bars of South Baltimore.

"I thought they were so handsome," Feliciano says now. "I loved their skin color and their dark hair. They were very friendly and kind- hearted."

One night, in the old Moonlight bar on Cross Street, a Filipino seaman chatted her up. He said his name was Mhanny Dela Cruz, from Manila. He was 23, a small, good- looking man, with a stud in one ear and a ring on each finger. The top three buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned.

Anna Lutz heard the trumpet call of angels.

"I thought he was so-o-o cute," Feliciano recalls. "Honestly, I know what they were out for. But they were so polite. They would pull your chair out, light your cigarette. He was a real gentleman."

They smoked and talked and drank long into the night. Then Anna and her friends were invited back to his ship, the Tropical Sea, docked in Canton. The party continued.

Well, you know how these things go.

Anna spent the night with Mhanny. The next day, his ship was leaving, but he asked for her address.

Sure enough, within weeks, letters began arriving from different ports in South America and Europe. She showed me a postcard and letter Mhanny had sent from Antwerp in May 1979. The correspondence was polite and chatty, Mhanny describing the sights he'd seen, the work he was doing.

"He never said he loved me, and I never said it to him," Feliciano said. "I'm glad he was honest."

Four months later, when the Tropical Sea returned to Baltimore, Anna met Mhanny at the Moonlight again. They spent the night together again aboard his ship. A few months after that, he returned to Baltimore and they spent the night at a friend's house.

Soon after he left again, Anna discovered she was pregnant.

"I'm 19, I'm not married. I didn't dare tell my family," she says.

But you know how these things go. You can only hide a pregnancy for so long. One day, while she was riding in the car with her father, Henry Lutz squinted at her and said: "You're not pregnant, are you?"

Anna, scared to death, admitted she was. Her dad let out a big sigh but said nothing.

Anna wrote to Mhanny and told him the news. She sent the letter to the address Mhanny had given her, a shipping company in Oslo, Norway. She didn't expect Mhanny to come back and marry her. She just wanted to let him know he was about to be a father.

Also, she says, Mhanny "was a do-right kind of guy. He had morals. He would have sent money to help raise his child."

For a long time, she heard nothing. Then she received a letter from the first mate on the Tropical Sea. The letter said Mhanny was no longer on the ship. He had gone back to Manila.

The baby, a boy, was born Feb. 10, 1980. She named him Antonio Manuel Lutz at first, then Antonio Manuel Dela Cruz.

The years that followed weren't easy. Being a single mom never is. Anna quit her job as a barmaid, moved in with her father, a single dad who had raised three kids. She took a series of other jobs to make ends meet while her dad looked after Little Tony, who, Anna said, "became the apple of his grandfather's eye."

But all the while, Anna never stopped looking for Mhanny Dela Cruz.

She wrote the Philippine consulate, the Philippine embassy, newspapers in Manila, the Red Cross. She would stop Filipino seamen at the mall and ask if they had ever heard of Mhanny.

As Tony grew older, he would ask about his father, which only increased her guilt, as well as the urgency of her search.

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