USS BLUE RIDGE, At sea – The phrase
“it’s a small world” hit home for one member of the U.S. 7th Fleet
Band during a recent visit to General Santos City, Philippines. As
part of Project Friendship, the band played at numerous sites
throughout the country to put smiles on the faces of local citizens.
Musician 2nd Class Jesse Carmona could have never imagined the smile
he would put on the face of one Filipina.
As Carmona mingled with the children of Bawing Elementary School,
showing them the different ways music can bring joy, something drew
him into a classroom. He wasn’t supposed to go into the room, with
paint still drying and work being finished as part of a community
service project, but he went anyway. Immediately the teacher inside
the room pointed something out.
“Carmona?” the teacher said with a look of surprise. The teacher
then ordered a student to run and get a fellow teacher, Laarni Mae
C. Pastolero. When Pastolero entered the room and looked at Carmona,
the awkward silence that filled the air was deafening.
“She didn’t know what to say,” Carmona said. “She looked right at
me, not at my name, and I think she knew right then that we were
family, but I wasn’t convinced.”
Prior to visiting the Philippines, Carmona’s father informed him
that he may still have family living there, though Carmona is not of
Philippine descent. His father did not tell him where the family may
be, so Carmona said he thought nothing more of it.
But as Pastolero attempted to explain how they could be related, she
paused and said she would return shortly. When she did, she spread
out dozens of photos on a table. The first one she grabbed was of
her own grandfather, who, according to Carmona, was the spitting
image of his own father.
The two of them sat down for lunch with other members of the 7th
Fleet Band and it was at that time that Pastolero realized that
Carmona was still skeptical about the stunning news that he had met
a member of his family at this school, on this day, in this country;
all places he had never been before. Then they compared names on
their family trees’ and right at that moment, Carmona believed.
“I asked about Jezable, my second cousin who is half Filipino, half
Spanish,” he said. “She knew who she was and that she was nine years
old and that she lived in Laguna Hills, Calif. This woman was
definitely part of my family.”
As it would turn out, the initial “C” in Pastolero’s name stands for
Carmona. Pastolero’s grandfather, in the first photograph she picked
up, is Carmona’s father’s uncle, making Carmona and Pastolero
cousins. At this point, Carmona said it felt “just like home.”
“We were instantly like family, with all the teachers around
laughing at the stories we were telling,” he said. “Sometimes, when
you find these family bridges and reconnect it’s just great and my
family in the Philippines are all doing great things.”
Carmona said all the hard work that went into Project Friendship
really paid off for him in more ways than he expected.
“I come from a big family being Roman Catholic, and I’m very family
oriented, so when I finally realized we were family, it made leaving
the Philippines that much harder,” he said. “It was just great
and…something I didn’t expect.”
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