Alicia Morales de Diaz used to text or talk on the phone with her older sister Reina every day. The Salvadoran sisters, along with their mother, have always been tight. When Reina, a single mother, left their hometown of Santa Ana in May 2022 to come to the United States, she trusted Alicia to take care of her two kids, 15 and 13. Reina would also have a video call with her kids almost daily.
So when Alicia didn’t get a text back from Reina the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she thought it was strange. Alicia tried to call her, but it went straight to voicemail, she told me in an interview in Spanish. “She always had her phone on and charged. She wanted to always be reachable in case of an emergency with her kids.” Later in the day, Alicia asked their mother if she had heard from Reina. When she said no, Alicia knew something was wrong.
Reina Carolina Morales Rojas has been missing since then — or for nearly two months. The 41-year-old immigrant, who had no family in the area, was reportedly last seen the evening of Saturday, Nov. 26, getting into a silver van in East Boston, where she lived, and being dropped off later on Allston Street in Somerville.
If this is the first time you’re hearing about Reina’s disappearance, join the club and please share my outrage.
For the past few weeks, there’s been almost wall-to-wall media coverage of Ana Walshe, a white mother from the affluent town of Cohasset who disappeared on New Year’s Day. The police went public with news of the search for her only days after she was last seen. Compare and contrast: According to Alicia, Reina’s boyfriend, David Platero, and Reina’s landlord, Francisco Magaña, reported her missing to the police in East Boston in late November. But the Boston police didn’t go public with the search for Reina until Jan. 12.
I’m not going to waste time talking about the “missing white woman syndrome.” It seems like all we do is talk about it instead of trying to rectify America’s shameful obsession with only certain types of victims — those with privilege. (I could find only one local news outlet that tried to direct our collective attention to all missing women: MassLive recently published an article of 15 people of color who are still missing in the state, many of them for years.)
Alicia told me that Reina came to the United States to work and provide a better future for her kids. “She was both a father and a mother to them. She was saving to build a house for them here and send them to a private school,” Alicia said. Before moving, Reina worked as a municipal police officer in Santa Ana. Here, she was working for an airline catering company at Logan Airport.
Mariellen Burns, Boston police’s chief of communications, said that the department “has been working to find Ms. Morales Rojas since she was reported missing at the end of November” and that BPD has been working with other jurisdictions as part of the “very active” investigation. While Burns acknowledged that BPD could have made public Reina’s disappearance earlier, she emphasized that BPD detectives and “members of our specialized units have interviewed a number of individuals who know or have connections to Ms. Morales Rojas,” and followed up on all leads so far.
Telemundo Boston, the Spanish-language TV network, has been covering Reina’s disappearance since the police announced it, along with sister network NBC 10. That’s how Lucy Pineda, a Salvadoran immigrant who’s a longtime activist in the Boston area and the director of the nonprofit Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts, learned about it. She immediately started organizing her members in an effort to spread awareness. On Sunday, LUMA held a vigil in the group’s offices in Everett. Pineda has been frustrated with the lack of media attention to Reina’s disappearance. “When I told a local Latino reporter about Reina, he was like, ‘oh, she probably ran away with her boyfriend,’ ” Pineda said.
The racial and misogynistic biases around the case are impossible to ignore. Alicia told me that even though she and other family members have been constantly calling the Boston police for updates on the case, officers rarely answered, and when they did, they didn’t have news. Burns, for her part, said BPD has been in constant communication with Reina’s family. But Alicia told me she “was only interviewed at length by the police on Jan. 14.” It’s why Pineda sent a strongly worded letter to Boston law enforcement officials, East Boston state legislators, and the office of Mayor Michelle Wu demanding more information about Reina’s case. “Why not a press conference to tell us what they’ve done?” said Pineda.
What message does that type of indifference send to Latinos? How are Bostonians of color supposed to trust the police and feel safe? Pineda is holding another vigil at 4 p.m. Jan. 24 outside the East Boston police station.
For Teresa Mendez, a Salvadoran immigrant who attended Sunday’s vigil organized by LUMA, it was important to show up even though she didn’t know Reina. In fact, most of the roughly 30 attendees apparently didn’t personally know her. “I’m here so that our collective Latino voice becomes louder,” Mendez told me. Indeed, if we, as Latinos, don’t lend voice to Reina’s disappearance to claim justice, who will?