'La Borinquena' Is A Puerto Rican Superhero Who Proves You Don't Need Powers To Make A Difference
One thing we too often forget is that superheroes are more than their perfectly choreographed action sequences and superhuman strength. Peter Parker is the underdog who must come to understand his great power and his great responsibility. Diana Prince is a symbol for strong women. Captain America came onto the comic book scene by punching Hitler in the face. Aside from their superpowers, they are human beings who want to change the world.
With La Borinqueña, creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez hopes to inspire the idea that you don't need superpowers to create social change. In an interview with Bustle, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez speaks about La Borinqueña's origin story, her roots in Puerto Rico and New York City, and the ways she changes the world both as a superhero and a regular college student.
La Borinqueña is the story of Marisol Rios de la Luz, a Columbia University Earth and Environmental Sciences student who is given powers by an ancient Taino goddess during a trip to Puerto Rico. But her name, Borinqueña, is given to her by the people of the island; it's the feminine version of Borinquen, the Taino name for Puerto Rico.
The development for La Borinqueña's character was organic. It all began at the 2016 New York City's Puerto Rican Day Parade, which honored Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez for his work on Marvel's Guardians of the Infinity 3. (Miranda-Rodriguez is responsible for Groot's Puerto Rican roots.) But Miranda-Rodriguez had an idea; he wanted to create an environmentally friendly Puerto Rican superhero whom he could introduce at the parade. He recruited law student and activist Stephanie Llanez to wear a custom-made costume, and on June 16, 2016, La Borinqueña made her debut at the Puerto Rican Day parade.
But Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez had to find a way to keep the momentum going. There was a character, but no comic yet. "It’s surreal," he tells Bustle. "Nothing like this has happened in comic books. My wife said, 'There’s no comic book and people are crazy about this.' The whole year was a build up for the book coming out."
La Borinqueña #1 is independently published, but the team is filled with professional talent — many of whom are Puerto Rican. "I was the newbie. I’d never written a full length comic before this. I’m directing all these professionals," he says. "Everyone on this project hadn’t worked alongside with other Puerto Ricans before."
In fact, before he wrote for Marvel and became the art director of creative studio Somos Arte, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez was just a boy from the South Bronx who loved comics and stories. In grade school, he began writing and selling comics — a hobby that would transform into a career.
Though Miranda-Rodriguez was born in New York City, he lived in Puerto Rican between ages 13 and 15, and during those years, he faced some hard truths about his own identity as Puerto Rican. He discovered that being called a "Nuyorican" was considered a slur on the island, and he quickly realized that his inability to speak Spanish was frowned upon. "It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized there was a place for me," he says. "And I'm proud of my Nuyorican-ness."
This search for identity is deeply explored in La Borinqueña #1. Marisol is a Brooklyn-born Afro-Puerto Rican who also struggles between her identity as a New Yorker and her identity as a boricua, as well as her identity as a superhero and her identity as a regular college student.
In the very first chapter of the comic, Marisol transforms into La Borinqueña and saves a plane from crashing. But instead of flying away, as most superheroes would do, she joins the people in celebration. They dance and celebrate, an act of unity that makes her wholly unique among her super-contemporaries. But in Chapter 2, readers meet the Marisol of Brooklyn. She's a geology major who decides to do her independent study in Puerto Rico while living with her grandparents and working at a coffee shop part-time.
No spider bites. No tragic childhood accident. No scientific experiments gone awry.
"I wanted to create a story that was relatable," Miranda-Rodriguez says. "The girl she is is more relatable than the superhero."
In fact, Marisol doesn't have a tragic backstory for a reason. "This is Marisol’s story," Miranda-Rodriguez says. "She doesn’t have to have something terrible happen to her to wake up her consciousness. The women in my life haven’t had to overcome tragedy. [It seems] When men tell stories about women, they [women] have to have something taken away from them to become strong."
As Marisol explores the island, she also explores what it means to be Puerto Rican. Her short interactions with side characters speak to the tension between white Puerto Ricans and Afro-Puerto Ricans. In Chapter 4, Marisol takes a spiritual journey that transports the reader through Puerto Rico's past. Marisol is spoken to by Atabex, a mother goddess of Taino myth, and she's given powers of the sea and storms. Through the goddess, Marisol can see the stages of Puerto Rican history: Taino civilization, the conquest by the Spanish, etc. But it doesn't stop there. She sees the diaspora of the people. She sees Mariana Bracetti sewing the first rendition of the Puerto Rican flag. She sees the Young Lords marching in New York. She sees a tribute to Pulse shooting in Orlando.
Get ready for all the feels.
Even La Borinquena's costume speaks to her roots on the island in the mainland. The suit is comprised of two versions of the Puerto Rican flag — the original, called El Grito de Lares, and the current one, which was made in New York City in 1892 and modeled after the Cuban flag.
The two flags are deeply symbolic of Puerto Rico's ties to both Latin America and to the United States. "There's a reason many Puerto Ricans are so patriotic," Miranda-Rodriquez says. "We come here as Americans. We aren’t immigrating. We’re moving. It isn’t until we arrive to New York City or wherever the final destination that we realize we aren’t accepted as Americans. It does something to our esteem. What we have to do to empower ourselves is cling to hour heritage, art, food, spirituality. Try as much as we want to acclimate, they won’t let us. We’re still perceived as immigrants."
When asked about the intended audience for La Borinqueña, Miranda-Rodriquez says, "I didn’t have a directly intended audience — The audience has been wide. I’m seeing it received by women of all colors and ages. Black, white, Asian, etc." That said, he finds it incredibly moving when people approach him to say they see themselves in Marisol. "She looks just like me" or "She has my wife's hair," or simply, "She's me."
But this is not just a Puerto Rican story. Miranda-Rodriguez is raising Korean-Puerto Rican sons, and he wanted to speak to their identity and heritage as well.
And so comes La La Liu, who is Chinese-Dominican. La Borinqueña #1 includes a bonus story that Miranda-Rodriguez wrote for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
"I wanted to expand to the Latino-Asian diaspora, "he says. "La La Liu represents Asian Latinxs that are erased. We’re at a beautiful era where we can celebrate our African-ness or Asian-ness."
Miranda-Rodriguez is often asked if Marisol is pro-independence or pro-statehood. "My own views are withheld from the narrative," he says. "I want your consciousness growing from the eyes of the main character. I want her narrative to develop as she sees the world."
Though the comic highlights the debt crisis and the ecological trouble on the island, there is no physical villain. "The villain is apathy, the villain is neglect," he says. La Borinqueña is a symbol of hope that you don't need superpowers to make a difference.
With regard to his superpower, Miranda-Rodriguez says, "I’m writing this from experience, but it has a universality — like family and friends. I draw all my strengths from my family. That’s my superpower."
La Borinqueña's unique story, gorgeous art, and relatable characters makes it compulsively readable. The book, which includes La La's bonus comic, is already on its way to a second printing.