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.