Can #JusticeForJunior Actually Keep Families Together?


Calls for justice in the violent murder of 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz have quieted in the wake of the 4th of July holiday. As Independence Day celebrations swept over a criticism fatigued nation, barbeques and fireworks rocked our watchful eyes to sleep. By Monday, many citizens like the Guzman-Feliz family, quietly returned to the realities of living in the margins of Constitutional freedom.

In the margins, many low-income immigrant families operate from a place of loss not gain, as there are often many painful sacrifices and byproducts ricocheting off their hard-fought opportunity to reside in the land of the free. Junior’s mother, Leandra Feliz, describes life after the vicious gang slashing that robbed her of her son—allegedly inflicted by a rampant Bronx-based Dominican gang called the “Trinitarios”—as a sort of zombie afterlife.

“They did not kill only my son, they killed me too,” she suggested during one of many local news interviewsJunior’s story  and his mother’s sentiments stands in stark contrast to the narrative of migrant mothers separated from their children in U.S. border states; somehow, though, the sentiments are eerily familiar. Diane Guerrero suggested, similarly to Junior’s mother, that the life of an immigrant child separated from their parent is not one that any child should ever be faced to live.

“I still remember how it felt when I first cried out for my parents, and they couldn’t answer,” Guerrero reflects. “[I have] days when I cannot even find the strength to begin.” The two women’s stories are different, yet their predicaments are the same. They have had family members brutally torn away from them and in Guerrero’s words, the effects last “forever.”

While ideological discourse continues and marches surge in defense of families attempting entry into America, many of those conversations are happening apart from the traumatizing realities of those who have actually integrated into American life. The blinding light that exposes injustice rarely reaches the crevices in which so many immigrant families are forced to nestle into for survival. Particularly in urban areas, such as New York City, the crevice is overrun with daily horrors that even the most vocal Americans fighting for social justice won’t willingly witness, let alone try to understand and vindicate.

The ubiquity of this experience is felt when celebrities such as Diane Guerrero, Lala Vasquez, Cardi B, and others tell their stories, often sparking questions of whether celebrities have a responsibility to shine a light on the experience of first-generation families living in low-income communities—often with disjointed families, separated by the circumstances of adjusting to new, unforgiving neighborhoods, makeshift homes, and a system that hardly recognizes, let alone protects them.  

Mainstream hip-hop artist Cardi B frequently uses her platform to spread awareness about the crisis many first-generation young adults living in low-income neighborhoods face. Growing-up in the gang-laden corners of the Bronx, NY, Cardi intimately related to Junior’s story—both through her own gang affiliation and disgust with the community’s handling of the violence. In a potentially problematic post, Cardi points a finger at the local NYPD as a responsible party in the death of youth on many street corners in the area.

“R.I.P. These Bronx street are ruthless. What piss [sic] me off the most is that these BX cops be harassing the shit outta people then they see a boy bleeding to death and ask what happen? [sic]” the rapper fumed through her post.

Many commenters took Cardi to task for pointing a finger at the police while also routinely and proudly highlighting her membership in the notorious Blood gang (Cardi often refers to herself as “Bardi” and suggests baby clothes gifted to her for her unborn child are “so bute”).  Questions were raised about whether Cardi responsibly—if not accurately—portrays the lives of immigrant Latinx families and young adults attempting to survive on often dangerous, forgotten streets in America. Whether Cardi has been responsible in her “reporting” on life as a first-generation youth in the Bronx or not, she reflected the oft-overlooked pathology of these young adults into mainstream consciousness. It’s a pathology that arguably results from their will to survive in the otherwise unlivable situation many immigrants find themselves in.  

A deep social media dive shows many of the Trinitarios gang members charged with Junior’s murder were the product of this pathology, where many choose gang culture and all its associated risks to find their identity in a country that hardly recognizes their humanity.

While a war rages on at our borders to ensure protection is granted to those who come from Latin America seeking asylum and to promise that these families will be kept together, we’ve turned our heads away from the war many families fight once they’re within the boundaries of the States. Once inside, too many families continue to find themselves fighting to protect their children and themselves from a different type of separation.

From Dianne Guerrero’s nightmare to Cardi B’s, there are many areas where we must continue to train our eye and raise our voices so that no mother has to ever again face the loss of her child due to her decision to immigrate. May she never lose them, neither at the border nor on a street corner in a foreign land.

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