The Forgotten Ones

On Thursday, August 18th while walking out of my office, I got the text. One of my girlfriends sent me a screenshot of a missing person flyer. The photo attached was that of a young Latina with a cluster of chestnut colored coils and doe-shaped eyes staring back at me. Maylin Reynoso. I allowed her accented name to fall from my lips con cariño. A gentle whisper. An homage. A memo. An intimate conversation between self and space that would force me to remember this name, her name, on the hour plus commute back home to Long Island.

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Maylin was last seen leaving work at the Global Gas Station on 155th and St Nicholas Avenue in the Harlem section of New York City at 10 PM on July 27th. Just three short days later, on July 30th, Maylin’s unresponsive body was pulled from the Harlem River. She was just 20 years old. August 18th was the first time I had ever heard of Maylin Reynoso. A seemingly vivacious Dominicana from the Bronx with an infectious smile visible throughout public photos on Facebook.  Her disappearance and mysterious demise have not garnered the attention of leading media outlets nor even that of local news stations in the metro New York City area.

It is because of social media and a close-knit circle of family and friends that Maylin received any attention at all. The Spanish language website with a focus on the Dominican community, Ensegundos,  was the first to report on August 10th followed closely by The Odyssey, VIBE Magazine, and Huffington Post Latino albeit weeks after Maylin’s body had been found. A faultless afterthought of sorts when compared to the around the clock coverage and updates of two high-profile cases centered around the murders of Karina Vetrano and Vanessa Marcotte. The difference between these cases being class, locale, and race.

I was deeply troubled by the murder of Karina Vetrano, an attractive, lively Italian-American woman from the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Howard Beach, a 15-minute drive from the Richmond Hill neighborhood I had become a transplant of before moving to the burbs. I would often pass the paved jogging trail adjacent to the Belt Parkway and feet from the overgrown weeds that sequestered Karina’s body from view whenever I visited the Gateway Shopping Center. I remember the anguish painted on the faces of her loved ones and plastered all over the front pages of our hometown papers in the coming days.  It was a heavy cloud hanging over the heads of fellow New Yorkers. No one deserves to lose their life in such a violent and invasive way. Detectives and law enforcement worked expeditiously for clues and donations poured in for a reward leading to any information that would assist in some semblance of closure. A number totaling $300,000 in the three weeks since Karina’s death.

An extensive Google search on “missing women of color in NYC” produced several links to the erroneous report of 14 missing Bronx girls forced into human trafficking. Another more refined search using keyword Latina tied me back to the missing Bronx girls and then produced nothing more but according to FBI statistics from 2014,  people of color made up close to  40 percent of the nation’s missing and that’s just the ones who are reported. Although the story of the missing Bronx girls was a tad sensationalized and 9 of those reported missing have since returned home,  the media didn’t pick up on the story until a grassroots collective of social media activists exerted their due diligence and raised awareness to the plight. Still, 5 of those missing 14 girls remain unaccounted for. In the essay ‘The Missing White Girl Syndrome: Disappeared Women and Media Activism’  journalist Sarah Stillman reports:

 

Each day, the mainstream media provide audiences with a subtle instruction manual for how to empathize with certain endangered women’s bodies, while overlooking others. These messages are powerful: they position certain sub-groups of women – often white, wealthy, and conventionally attractive – as deserving of our collective resources while making the marginalization and victimization of other groups of women, such as low-income women of color, seem natural.

 

That Maylin was Dominican, an Afro-Latina, possibly suffering from mental illness and from one of New York City’s poorest boroughs has only contributed to the media bias journalists partake in when covering the majority of missing person cases. Factor in language barriers, the undocumented, and transgendered women and the disparity is evident. According to Ensegundo, Maylin’s family is disgusted at the mishandling of the case. Insisting that police did nothing during and after  Maylin’s disappearance and it was only after desperate pleading that the morgue released any information to Maylin’s mother. By then, the family had reached out to Univision’s Channel 41 for assistance since English language stations have remained silent.

I am NOT placing fault on the family and friends of Karina Vetrano for doing all they humanly can in finding the person (s) that stole such a promising life from them. I am NOT even insinuating that one life  is more deserving  than the other. As a parent, I would lose myself exhausting all possibilities in seeking justice for my children and I would only hope my community does the same. I would only hope that all lives are treated equally. I would only hope that all families receive the same amount of empathy and concern. I would only hope our humanity does not go unnoticed or unclaimed.

A gofundme created to ensure that Maylin receives a proper burial has reached $4,000 in ten days. There is no reward money leading to information on Maylin’s disappearance. No journalists mounted on the concrete steps of Maylin’s mother’s home waiting on a word or quote for their bylines. No outstretched arms wrapped around the shoulders of family members in consolation. No  candles by the river. No prayers carried into the waters where Maylin’s body was recovered. No comfort. No solace. No clues. And like so many before her, no closure. The only thing these women seem to have in common.