Some Latinos in East Boston Feel Forgotten

Amber Morris, Camila Montes De Oca

In partnership with Boston University students, Where Mainstream Media Fails is a four-part series highlighting critical issues in underserved communities across Boston that have gone underreported. This series comments on how mainstream media continues to ignore or misrepresent Boston’s racially and ethnically diverse communities. 


Some people in East Boston know what it is like to feel forgotten.

That’s true in the case of Reina Carolina Morales Rojas, who was reported missing two days after Thanksgiving in 2022 and has never been found. 

Few people knew about her disappearance—until January 2023, when residents and advocates from Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts in nearby Everett began holding vigils and demanding action from police.

With public pressure rising, the media finally took notice. On January 23, 2023, the Boston Globe published its first in-depth story on Morales Rojas’ disappearance. A Boston police official told the outlet that investigators had been working on the case since she was reported missing.

“That could have been all of us,” said Boston Globe Editorial Writer Marcela García, who covered Morales Rojas’s case. “This is another story of how people in underrepresented communities get overlooked.”

Local news media can quickly change the magnitude of an issue, and their initial silence on Morales Rojas’s disappearance was notable. There was some coverage in the winter of 2023; however, the story quickly lost traction as it was no longer considered breaking news. 

Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts (LUMA) Founder and Director Lucy Pineda said she watched as other cases of missing women got extensive attention from the media, police, and other nonprofits.  

A photo of Reina Carolina Morales Rojas, an East Boston resident who went missing in November of 2022. Image courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“We could see the preference,’’ said Pineda, noting that Morales Rojas is Latina and from another country.

Officials at the Boston Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for an update on any inquiry into Morales Rojas’s disappearance.

Morales Rojas is one of the many stories involving missing women from Latino and other underrepresented communities that are often ignored by the media and the police, said Pineda.

The reasons for that vary, including that reporters may be juggling too many stories or that there are fewer reporters in newsrooms who speak Spanish or other languages prevalent in underrepresented communities. 

Latino reporters represent roughly 15.8 percent of journalists, reporters, and news analysts, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. 

While Latinos comprise 19 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 13 percent of investigative reporters in the county, according to a National Association of Hispanic Journalists survey covering 2021 through 2023. 

The survey found that 60 percent of investigative news reporters are white, while nine percent are Black, three percent are from the Middle East and North America, and fewer than one percent identified as Indigenous. 

The local newspaper, The East Boston Times, has reported extensively on the neighborhood. However, larger media outlets rarely cover pressing issues in the East Boston area. So, concerns like rising housing costs, environmental problems, trash pick-up, and other quality-of-life issues go underreported.

Morales Rojas, a 41-year-old mother of two, arrived in Boston in May 2022 from El Salvador. She settled in East Boston, a landing spot for new immigrants and one of the city’s most affordable places to live.   

Morales Rojas got a job with an airline catering company based at Boston Logan International Airport. In El Salvador, she worked as a municipal police officer. She kept in contact with her daughter and son through daily calls to her sister, who cares for them in her home country.

According to an FBI alert, Morales Rojas left a friend’s house in Somerville on November 26, 2022. That was the last time she was seen. After midnight, both of her cellphones had been powered off.

Pineda recalled when the Boston Globe had a dedicated immigration reporter who covered critical issues in local Latino communities. However, that in-depth coverage was lost once the reporter left the paper, and there was no replacement.

García wrote many stories about Morales Rojas after noticing the lack of coverage of her disappearance. She viewed it as an injustice.

“When the mainstream media or the majority of the outlets write about these things, unfortunately, it comes across as either very one-dimensional or very superficial,’’ García said in an interview. “It doesn’t give a nuanced picture.”

A photo of a luxury condominium building in East Boston’s Maverick square.
The Mark Building, 99 Sumner St, East Boston. February 19, 2024. Photo by Camila Montes De Oca.

Morales Rojas was an immigrant in a new and big city. García knew this experience well, as she had immigrated alone from Mexico nearly two decades ago. Although, García notes that her journey to the U.S. was more privileged. 

When García began writing about Morales Rojas, she wanted to emphasize the various complications in Morales Rojas’ case and in understanding what happened to her, including language barriers in the press and bigger issues such as police accountability.

In the same month that police reported Morales Rojas missing, another woman—Ana Walshe—had also disappeared.

Walshe was a Serbian-American 39-year-old mother of three from Cohasset, Massachusetts. She was last seen by a friend on January 1, 2023, and reported missing three days later by coworkers, according to a Boston Globe article.

Cohasset police and state police investigated the case. A search began on January 6 and ended two days later. Brian Walshe was arrested nearly two weeks later for allegedly misleading the police about what happened to his wife. He has been charged with her death and is now awaiting trial for her murder.

Both cases involved women who had gone missing within a couple of months of each other, but news coverage between the two cases was strikingly different. 

Morales Rojas’ disappearance received less than half of the media coverage that Walshe’s received. Walshe went missing five weeks after Morales Rojas vanished, but her disappearance was likely taken more seriously due to the level of media coverage. 

A search of the Boston Globe archives found only 18 stories about or referencing Morales Rojas since 2023. By contrast, the paper had 39 stories about or referencing Walshe that month.

In a matter of weeks, police had a suspect in the Walshe case, but it took outspoken advocates from Latino Unidos en Massachusetts to plead for attention to be brought to Morales Rojas’ case. 

Pineda had sent a letter to Boston law enforcement officials, East Boston state legislators, and Mayor Michelle Wu’s office demanding for more information on Morales Rojas’s case.

She said she has been “disappointed” by the responses so far. 

More than a year later, not much is known about what happened to Morales Rojas.

“I hear the same information [from police]. ‘The case is active. We are still investigating,’’’ Pineda said. “So, we don’t have much information about it.”

East Boston’s Gradual Transformation

Boston City Councilor Gabriela Coletta, who goes by “Gigi,” is a lifelong East Boston resident. Her parents were community advocates who began taking her to civic association meetings, neighborhood events, and protests as a child.

Coletta noted the evolution of the neighborhood.

“I have seen firsthand how East Boston has changed,” Coletta said.

East Boston was once home to Russian, Italian, and Portuguese immigrants. Since the 1980s, newcomers have come from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Morocco.

According to a 2024 report by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), more than half of its 45,000-plus residents are Latino or Hispanic, and 20,000 of those residents are foreign-born.

The median income for East Boston was $61,000, according to a 2020 BPDA report; it rose to $83,501 in 2024, according to the BPDA.

Coletta said she wanted to invoke change in her community through political campaigns. 

After college, Coletta pursued a career in public service and ran for office to make a difference in the lives of people in her community. Before joining the council, she was a liaison for State Representative Adrian Madaro, and later, chief of staff for former Boston City Councilor—current State Senator—Lydia Edwards.

Coletta credits The East Boston Times for its in-depth coverage of the neighborhood but wonders who would hold her and other officials accountable if the paper disappeared.

Coletta addressed some of those issues earlier this year at the February meeting of the Eagle Hill Civic Association at East Boston High School, where the hallway is painted in yellow, green, and red. The discussion, which received scant media coverage, turned to tree-planting programs and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Other topics included trash cans in the streets, mitigating flooding, other environmental issues, and an initiative called “Love Your Block” on neighborhood engagement. Coletta toggled from issue to issue, from housing affordability to environmental resilience.

East Boston is “one hurricane away from devastation,” she said.

Abandoned pier adjacent to Piers Park, East Boston (Lewis Mall) Ferry terminal. February 25, 2024.
Photo by Amber Morris.

Two months after the meeting, Pineda sat at the Miami Airport on a Tuesday in April, waiting for her now-delayed flight to El Salvador.

In a Zoom interview with reporters at the airport, Pineda said she is going on vacation but also plans to visit Morales Rojas’ two teenage children, Justin Morales and Kimberling Morales.

She had met them last year in El Salvador, she said, and periodically communicates with them, especially Morales Rojas’ daughter. They want to know if their mother is safe.

As a social justice advocate for 35 years, she lets them know their mother is not forgotten. 

“When we started on this process [over a year ago], they thought we’d find their mom by now,’’ she said. “It’s hard when…you do the best you can, but you don’t have all the power. It’s hard for me.”

The family tries to endure. 

Kimberling often asks if everything “is fine with my mom,’’ Pineda said. “Then she will start crying.”   

This story is part of a student-reporting series on how underrepresented communities are covered in the media. Massachusetts Latino News has published this series in collaboration with student reporters who were part of Professor Meghan Irons’ Reporting in Depth class at Boston University. 

Amber Morris is an undergraduate student at Boston University, pursuing a degree in journalism and public relations. She was born and raised in Massachusetts. Morris is a contributing writer for The Daily Free Press and works as a freelance photographer. After studying crisis and conflict reporting in Italy this summer, she will begin working at The Boston Globe.

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