A couple of years ago someone posted the following image on social media:
As a half-Puerto Rican, I thought it was pretty funny. Captain America’s costume did actually evoke the Puerto Rican Flag more than it did the American Flag.
I find this meme gets shared every few months by Puerto Rican friends online, but it also made me think that there were no Puerto Rican superheroes. It seemed like an idle thought at the time and I left it there. For Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez there being no Puerto Rican superheroes was more than just an idle thought. He made it a reality and created “La Borinqueña”
La Borinqueña is a fitting name for a Puerto Rican superhero. It is the name of Puerto Rico’s national anthem and is a feminization of Puerto Rico’s original Taino Indian name: Borinquen. Miranda-Rodriguez envisioned this becoming the title of a superhero that gains her powers from the old spirits of Puerto Rico.
I found the comic quite serendipitously. After the events of Hurricane Maria, I was looking for a way to reconnect with my Puerto Rican heritage. I began cooking up Puerto Rican food (My wife gamely let me cook up dishes like Rice and Beans, Tostones, Amarillos, Picadillo, Empanada, Bistec Empanizado and Flan). I also began listening to traditional Puerto Rican music. There are three songs about Puerto Rico at the core of this tradition: “En Mi Viejo San Juan” (In my old San Juan), Preciosa (Precious) and La Borinqueña.
After getting a little emotional at finding a South Korean orchestra sing En Mi Viejo San Juan in Puerto Rico and listening to Marc Anthony’s incredible version of Preciosa, I googled La Borinqueña. I found the song, but then kept seeing images for a superhero. I was intrigued, so I did a little digging and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
La Borinqueña, published under the author’s own label, Somos Arte (We are art), is about the adventures of Marisol Rios De La Luz. Marisol grew up in Brooklyn and is Afro-Puerto Rican. She is a student of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and on a semester abroad in Puerto Rico, she explores a cave and discovers the goddess and spirits of the Taino. They give her superpowers turning her into La Borinqueña and she becomes the superhero of the Puerto Rican people.
The comic is often bilingual, as ‘Spanglish” is very common on the island. If you don’t know Spanish, you will still understand the story, but you will miss out on some of the, for lack of a better word, flavor. This comic lives in the same mental space as the Puerto Rican culture it celebrates, so its use of both Spanish and English is appropriate. It is perhaps a bit novel, but it was fun at how natural it felt given my own heritage.
La Borinqueña also makes an effort to be a positive portrayal of women and Latinos. Additionally, Miranda-Rodriguez very intentionally wanted to highlight that Marisol is Afro-Latina, as Latinos of African descent make up a sizable part of the Puerto Rican population, but are often underrepresented within that diverse population. Marisol herself is portrayed as strong, powerful and intelligent. She is beautiful and has the “latin curves” but is realistically proportioned and her costume, while emphasizing her femininity, does not sexualize her.
In a post-Hurricane Maria world, La Borinqueña is a wonderful symbol of hope for a still struggling Puerto Rico. (2 months after the Hurricane, more than 25% of the Island is still struggling to get power.) Miranda-Rodriguez knows this and is working to help the island through his work. First, he did the artwork for the Lin Manuel Miranda Puerto Rico aide single, Almost like Praying.
Currently, Miranda-Rodriguez is hosting an art show is being held in New York City showcasing this character and comic with proceeds being donated to hurricane relief. The show is being held at the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in the Bronx and runs through January 6th.
For me, La Borinqueña was an unexpected but welcome surprise. I was trying to reconnect with my own Puerto Rican heritage and stumbled on this comic which celebrates this heritage through one of my favorite mediums, the comic book. This comic, like all things Puerto Rican, be it food or music, is definitely worth checking out and while I am admittedly a bit biased, it does not make it any less true.