Move Over, Wonder Woman — This Afro-Puerto Rican Superhero Is The Ultimate Feminist Icon
“She is my hero and represents the power we have as a people.”
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, a self-described artsy nerd from the South Bronx, never imagined that the Afro-Puerto Rican pacifist character he first self-published only a little more than a year ago would emerge as one of the comic book world’s most realistic feminist super-heroes. La Borinqueña officially debuted at New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade in June 2016. Since then, both the character and the comic book have become something bigger and more meaningful than their creator could have dreamed, especially as Puerto Rico weathers two onslaughts from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, school closings, and an economic crisis.
“The mainstream publishing and comic book industry, after decades, is finally recognizing the power of people of color. An audience that they [producers and studios] think doesn’t go to movies, but then ‘Wonder Woman’ kills it in the box office, they’re like, ‘Oh, shit, we better get more women superheroes,”’ Miranda-Rodriguez says. Now 47, he says he’s been reading comic books since he was 7 years old.
He started buying them using money he made from collecting bottles and cans. Even though, he says, none of the characters represented his culture, looked like him, or were ever on the cover of the books.
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. Photo by Kyung Jeon Miranda.
“La Borinqueña was initially created because I was upset about the humanitarian issues surrounding Puerto Rico — from the economy to the environmental issues that continue to affect the island. I thought maybe if I create this superhero, she can be a conduit to connect Puerto Rico with the rest of the world,” Miranda-Rodriguez says.
La Borinqueña’s story is that she’s a Columbia University student named Marisol Rios De La Luz. She studies environmental science and has an interest in activism. While on a trip to Puerto Rico to visit family, a Taino goddess, Atabey, and her twin sons grant her superpowers of flight and the ability to harness weather. Miranda-Rodriguez says the character initially looks at her visit home to Puerto Rico as an extension of her thesis, but she ends up discovering the damage gentrification has on the environment and the people living on the island, and it inspires her to come to its aid.
Named after Puerto Rico’s anthem, La Borinqueña uses her superhuman powers to control the weather and to protect people, animals, and the island from supernatural dangers — as only a pacifist superhero can.
“She’s meant to unite and bring people together. The women in my life didn’t resort to violence to make change happen. If she did anything other than that, she’d be perceived as weapon of mass destruction, a terrorist. She’d be considered a threat, like the nationalist movement has always been perceived in Puerto Rico,” he says.
La Borinqueña is intentionally drawn as an Afro-Latina beauty with chocolate skin, an average body size, and a mane of ebony curls. Miranda-Rodriguez says her looks have resonated with women readers.
Excerpt from Issue 1.
“I want to celebrate diversity within the Puerto Rican community, and there’s been an outpouring of support. I felt for too long there’s been a negative portrayal of our African culture, with too many anti-black messages. This character is my attempt to undo a lot of that … [down to] the way I had her drawn by my artists as a full-figured woman, versus a character who’s over six feet tall with a size six waist. There’s an underrepresentation of women drawn with realistic proportions, particularly in comic books,” Miranda-Rodriguez says.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]She’s meant to unite and bring people together. The women in my life didn’t resort to violence to make change happen.[/quote]
As for the character being a woman, Miranda-Rodriguez says it’s been the women in his life who’ve saved him and mentored him. “When I think of Puerto Rico, she’s always been a woman to me,” he says.
Miranda-Rodriguez also writes for Marvel Comics and is the founder of Somos Arte (“We are art”), located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He’s the editor-in-chief of DMC Comics, the imprint started by Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels.
He says his hope for La Borinqueña is that she continues to open a portal connecting the world with what’s happening in Puerto Rico and that more and more readers will relate to her story.
“Mainstream media doesn’t think there’s universality in a woman of color’s story. We [people of color] find universal traits in every narrative we read, even when they don’t look like us or represent us. We are drawn to La Borinqueña, and we finally have a character who looks like us. Just as so many readers relate to the narrative of a young English boy studying wizardry, she is my hero and represents the power we have as a people,” he says.
Miranda-Rodriguez’s second “La Borinqueña” comic book is due out in December.