Super heroes often fight elaborate, fictional foes bent on global or universal domination — Superman fights the evil Lex Luthor while Wonder Woman battles countless gods.
La Borinqueña, one of the newest superheroes to hit the comic book scene, fights forces you’re more likely to encounter in real life.
“I don’t need to write about a fictional, intergalactic threat, when real issues exist here,” the writer, creator, and publisher of La Borinquena, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, recently told Global Citizen.
The character La Borinqueña, otherwise known as Marisol Rios De La Luz, is a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in Brooklyn and who studies environmental science at Columbia University. She cares about composting and climate change and when she gets the chance to study for a semester on the island of her ancestors, she takes it.
While exploring Puerto Rico’s natural geography, Rios De La Luz encounters crystals that unlock the spirit of Atabex, an indigenous mother goddess, who grants Marisol super human strength, the ability to fly, and the ability to control weather.
Like that, La Borinqueña — which means an indigenous Puerto Rican in Spanish — is born, a superhero who adds some much-needed diversity to the constellation of cape-wearing, mostly white-male crusaders.
Since hitting the shelves, La Borinqueña has become a break-out success for an independent publisher, and Miranda-Rodriguez has been touring the country ever since. For many of his readers, the comic book represents a profound validation, a mainstream acceptance of their identities, according to Miranda-Rodriguez.
“The majority of the fans of my book are women who aren’t even comic book collectors,” he said. “And not only Latinas, they’re white, they’re black, they’re Asian, they’re LGBTQ, it’s an incredibly diverse mix of women.”
Miranda-Rodriguez has been involved in the comic book business for many years and owns and operates a design studio, Somos Arte, and a comic book division, Studio Edgardo, based in Brooklyn. He’s also the editor-in-chief of Run DMC’s comic book imprint, Daryl Makes Comics.
This creative freedom allows Miranda-Rodriguez to pursue art that actually reflects his interests — social justice, women’s rights, diversity, sustainability — all the values that make a global citizen.
It also allows him to hire and support other people of color.
Miranda-Rodriguez told Global Citizen that he knew that he had to make something that spoke to Latinos and other marginalized people, because growing up, he lived in a narrow cultural environment dominated by white, male figures on TV, in movies, and across all other mediums.
The lack of representation limited his sense of what was possible as a child.
Today, he has two boys with his wife, who is also a comic book artist, and he wants them to grow up appreciating women and diversity.
“I understand how seeing a superhero that actually resembles you is empowering,” he said. “When you don’t see that growing up, it just does something to your psyche. It just eats away at you little by little by little.
“I can literally count on one hand the amount of times I saw a Puerto Rican character [growing up],” he said.
Miranda-Rodriguez grew up in New York and he became socially conscious through the hip hop of the 1990s. Through acts like Run DMC, he said, he learned about apartheid in South Africa.
“That made me curious and I started looking [apartheid] up and I was appalled by it,” he said. “I wasn’t South African, I wasn’t even living on that side of the planet, I was living in New York, but something about that sparked my interest and I just wanted there to be justice.”
As he got older, he wanted to blend his passion for global justice with his passion for art. For him, the right conduit seemed to be comic books because of their visual, punchy nature, and passionate fan base.
He also realized that the comic book industry was waking up to diversity, including more people of color, gender identities, and sexual orientations.
For instance, Marvel released its first gay Latina super hero last year, America Chavez.
The past several years have been a parade of inclusivity and diversity for Marvel Comics — they’ve featured an all-female Avengers cast, a female Wolverine character, female Muslim leads, scores of gay characters, the Luke Cage TV series centering on a black character, and a black woman has tried on the Iron Man costume.
And while that might seem like progress, there’s still work to be done. Nearly 80% of Marvel creators were white men in 2015, according to one analysis.
Initially, Miranda-Rodriguez was just going to introduce the concept of a Puerto Rican superhero at the 2016 New York Puerto Rican Day Parade as a way to draw attention to some of the pressing issues bearing down on Puerto Rico, including the debt crisis and infrastructure crisis.
Puerto Rico is currently hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. Over the past several years, hundreds of schools and hospitals have closed on the island, blackouts and water shortages have become common, and the most educated people have left in droves because of a painful recession.
“That’s fundamentally what this project is for me,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “I decided to create a comic book that really centered around real world social issues, real world humanitarian issues.”
But, he emphasized, the comic is also meant to have universal appeal.
“She’s not a character that was created for Puerto Ricans,” he said. “She just happens to be Puerto Rican and even though the narrative centers around Puerto Rican heritage, there’s still fundamentally that universal narrative that she is a science student, she’s very invested in climate change and the environment, these are universal values that are not specific to an ethnic group or even to someone regionally.”
Ultimately, Miranda-Rodriguez wants to promote tolerance and openness, while having fun in the process.
“Being a global citizen means that you have to remind yourself that you don’t live isolated to the rest of the world, just because you live in your specific home, neighborhood, city, we are part of a planet,” he said.
“It’s as important to be as connected to your neighbor across the street as it as to be connected to your neighbor across the planet.”