- BBC News World
As a child, Edgardo Rodríguez-Miranda, a Puerto Rican graphic novelist, realized that in the comics he read there were no characters similar to him.
It was the late 1970s and early 1980s, and this little introvert growing up in the colorful and diverse neighborhood of the Bronx, New York, was looking for himself among the pages of the comics that had become his refuge.
His family, dependent on a single mother and struggling financially, used to move house constantly. This meant a new school, new classmates, and difficulty in having an immediate circle of friends.
But, in any of the corners of the Big Apple where he arrived as the unknown boy, the comics accompanied him.
“These continuous stories gave me as a reader a connection. Everywhere I went, I could read a comic,” the 52-year-old artist explained to the radio show. Outlook from the BBC.
It was also a way of getting to know other children, as they served to “break the ice” every time one of his classmates asked him about his drawings or asked for a personalized comic.
The problem was that he was Latino, a Puerto Rican descendant of immigrants. White, blue-eyed superheroes like Superman did not share his physical characteristics or cultural identity.
As an adult, turned comic book creator, he decided to develop a character that was more like his reality. And beyond that represent other minoritieslike women and black people.
So it was that, in 2016, he was born The Borinqueñaa New York-born heroine of Puerto Rican descent who fights against climate change and social injustice, and who earned the artist the San Diego Comic-Con Humanitarian Award in 2019.
Its creation has also become a resource for schools and other educational centers in the United States and Puerto Rico to discuss issues of race, Latinoness, representativeness, and gender.
How is La Borinqueña? How has the life of this Puerto Rican changed? What has been the impact of his character? Here we tell you.
La Borinqueña has “her feet on the ground”
His character’s name is inspired by the anthem of the US territory. While the costumes have the design of the Puerto Rican flag.
La Borinqueña, whose “real” name is Marisol Río de la Luz, is described by her creator as an ordinary young woman, who is studying environmental sciences at the prestigious Columbia University in New York.
He has curly hair, brown skin and “down to earth”.
“I tried to create a person who was a representation of all women, because unfortunately in the mass media the narratives revolve around the experiences of white men and their voices,” says the Puerto Rican, who is the father of two children.
The superheroine acquired her powers on an academic trip to the island. There, while she was doing scientific research in various caves, she met the gods of the indigenous people who populated the territory before the Spanish conquest. She was given the ability to control the elements.
Miranda-Rodriguez added that her character does not fight any supervillains. She rather she faces the social problems of Puerto Rico.
“I didn’t want her to have to fight a supervillain, because stories about women are always centered in relation to another person,” she told the BBC.
The impact of its creation
The social and climatic problems facing the island were precisely the inspiration to create the comic series, the first issue of which was published in December 2016.
The character came to Miranda-Rodríguez’s mind when she watched Puerto Rican government officials announce on a newscast that the U.S. territory had a unpayable public debt of more than US$70,000 million.
The island would go bankrupt, the product of a deep economic crisis that had begun several decades ago, and that filled the future of Puerto Ricans with uncertainty.
Miranda-Rodríguez, already an illustrator who had been successful creating graphic novels for others, decided that his story would be a method of bringing the world’s attention to the land of his fathers.
“There is more clicks in celebrity and superhero reporting than in business news. So I thought: ‘why don’t I create a superhero that allows me to enter the mass media space to be able to connect with the discourse of what is happening in the world?’ “, She maintained in the interview.
La Borinqueña received a huge reception and was praised by critics. Sales, according to the author, were successful.
When the first issue came out, those interested in the comic lined up for four hours to meet the writer and receive his signature at a New York store. The edition is not only part of academic curricula, but also found a place in institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, which included it in its collection.
Months after the publication, in September 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and the territory was partially destroyed.
The author used his recognition to advocate for the reconstruction of the island. He also promoted the publication of the anthological comic Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico(Reconstrucción: Remembering and Rebuilding Puerto Rico), which recounts the adventures of La Borinqueña along with several DC Comics superheroes, such as Wonder Woman, to rebuild the territory.
The proceeds from the sales of this work were used to help those affected by the cyclone.
La Borinqueña, as well as comics in general, have changed the life of this graphic novelist of humble origins.
Currently, Miranda-Rodríguez is the director and owner of the creative and graphic design studio Somos Arte, located in New York, and which has had Marvel, the production of the musical Hamilton and Sony Pictures as clients.
In addition, he is Envoy for the Arts of the US Department of State and offers talks and workshops in Latin America on how La Borinqueña is a reflection of social justice.
“People see this story (La Borinqueña) in many ways. They can discuss colonialism, climate change, Latino identity, colorism. Because I am an Afro-Latina, the interest goes further, because black people also you see in this character,” he says.
Given the success, the author can only remember that boy who started drawing comics when he needed to connect with others, and sends a message to those who feel like him.
“Having been able to create something that, after so many decades, is still connected with that child, allows me to connect with other children. And I tell them: ‘I’m like you, I’m Puerto Rican, I grew up around here, you can be me, you can count your history'”.
*this article is based on the BBC Outlook episode “Creating a Puerto Rican superhero to save the worldd”. If you want hear itClick here.
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