Covering the Canton ICE raids: an impactful experience

St. Joe Alum Mary Greene volunteers at Sacred Heart. Photo courtesy of the Clarion Ledger

St. Joe Alum Mary Greene volunteers at Sacred Heart. Photo courtesy of the Clarion Ledger

Bianca McCarty, Co-editor

Like most teenagers, I don’t call my grandma enough. She’s all the way in California; I haven’t seen her since last Christmas. I knew she would want to read my article about the ICE raids in Canton. But she isn’t exactly tech savvy, so I printed her out a copy and sent it in the snail mail.

I finally called her a few days later, and the first thing she wanted to talk about was my article. Your grandparents will think you hung the moon no matter what, and mine are no exception. But my grandma’s approval still meant the world. She emigrated from El Salvador in the 1960s. And I was glad that my article that was centered around immigrants had the approval of the immigrant who loves me the most.

In many ways, she is the epitome of the Catholic Abuelita stereotype. Every time I call her, she asks if I’ve been to confession lately and scolds me for a couple of minutes if I haven’t. Her nickname for me is “Bella” or “Bellísima,” usually accompanied by a jumble of words I faintly recognize as Spanish. She rolls her r’s, is too cheap to waste even a teaspoon of salt, and her first date with my grandpa was going to Catholic Mass.

My grandma might be a bit eccentric, but she risked everything so my mom and her siblings could have a better life than she had.”

— Bianca McCarty

Maybe that’s why I was so afraid to write “Catholic community reaches out after ICE raids.” I needed to please my Hispanic roots, my mom and my grandma, the St. Joe community, and the affected people of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Reaching out for interviews was truly terrifying, as this was the most controversial thing I’ve ever covered in three years of high school journalism. What if they didn’t want to talk to me? What if they saw me as a meddling outsider? What if all I did was bring up pain?

. . .

I drove myself to Sacred Heart one October afternoon after school, nervous the entire way to Canton. I parked my mom’s minivan in the church parking lot and stepped into the cool, early autumn air. My mind was swimming with anxiety. I needed this to go well for the sake of my story and my sanity.

After a moment, I spotted Mrs. Patti Greene, a Sacred Heart parishioner and my youth group director at St. Joe Gluckstadt, at the end of parking lot. She waved me over and we walked to a ranch style house next to the church. The Rev. Mike O’Brien, pastor at Sacred Heart, opened the door, we sat down in a small living room, and I started the interview.

In all my years of journalism, I’ve never had such a good interview before. After a while, I stopped asking questions and just listened to what Fr. O’Brien and Mrs. Greene had to say. I dropped my proper journalism voice and had a conversation with them.

As I sat there, I started to realize how deep this story really was. It was so much more than just a food drive and a few hungry people. The whole community had been rocked — from Canton, to Mississippi, to the entire country. I was baffled, completely and totally aghast.

I couldn’t help but think: How in the world am I, an inexperienced teenager, to write about such a complex issue?

I needed numbers for my story, so Mrs. Greene led me into the parish hall to speak with Ms. Blanca Peralta, the Hispanic minister. I’ll admit I was nervous, frightened of judgement. We stepped into a small office and Mrs. Greene introduced me to Ms. Peralta.

I got my numbers and much more. I can still feel how my heart clenched when Ms. Peralta spoke of how loved the Hispanic community felt in the wake of this tragedy. I could have cried, honestly. It amazed me how she could speak of love when they were facing such an uncertain and painful future.

“We feel loved.”

What Ms. Peralta said rang endlessly in my ears. We all, myself included, could stand to learn a few things from that simple statement.

Even though I have a loving family and great friends, I still tend to focus on the people who don’t care about me instead of the ones who do.

How the Hispanic community of Canton manages to focus on the people who care about them in a country where their very right to be here is argued daily, is truly inspiring.”

— Bianca McCarty

Inside the gym, a couple of kids ran around as a few women sat at a foldout table crafting beautiful paper flowers. Mrs. Greene led me over to the table and to my greatest surprise, one of the women recognized me. In broken Spanish, I managed to explain that I was, in fact, the oldest daughter of St. Anthony Elementary School’s Spanish teacher.

She was so excited, you would have thought that I was the queen.

Of course, it was that moment that my mom decided to walk into the parish hall. The two of them conversed animatedly in Spanish while Mrs. Greene and I stood to the side, trying to catch snippets of the conversation.

Watching a woman who hadn’t seen my mom in five years welcome her without hesitation finally washed away my nerves. How could I be nervous around these people? All they had been was warm and welcoming.

They reminded me of my mom’s family in California — the excited words that I couldn’t understand, but never doubted how full of love they were. On the drive back to St. Joe, I had to fight back tears and the itch to start writing.

. . .

From that first interview, it took me a little over a month to completely finish the article.

I’ll admit, it took way longer than it should have, but I needed that time to process the sheer enormity of what I was covering. Giant newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post had covered the story, adding another level of pressure. This was an event the entire country was watching.

Growing up in Mississippi all these years, I’ve always felt that our past was discussed more than our present, and that the rest of the country couldn’t care less about us. Then, suddenly we were in the center of a nationwide story.”

— Bianca McCarty

America’s eyes were on us, and that almost frightened me.

No matter how uncomfortable I felt, I am a journalist, though only a high school one. And I had the responsibility to cover a massive story in our community. I did the very best I could with the skills that I had, but I truly believe that words cannot possibility capture the extent of this amazing community.

I’m almost certain I cried more than once while writing the article on my bedroom floor. The whole situation broke my heart into pieces, but what moved me even more was the bravery of the Hispanic community. As a second generation American myself, I knew that immigrants were hearty.

But experiencing that strength firsthand in my own community made me admire them even more.

. . .

People come together in tragedy. That’s something we’ve seen since the beginning of humanity.

But every time, it never ceases to amaze me. The Catholic community isn’t large in this part of the country. But we came together to help people who we claim as ours, though they may not speak our language. We are who we say we are — universal.