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Comics/Graphic Novels

Who is La Borinqueña?

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Elisa Shoenberger

Contributor

Elisa Shoenberger has been building a library since she was 13. She loves writing about all aspects of books from author interviews, antiquarian books, archives, and everything in between. She also writes regularly for Murder & Mayhem and Library Journal. She's also written articles for Huffington Post, Boston Globe, WIRED, Slate, and many other publications. When she's not writing about reading, she's reading and adventuring to find cool new art. She also plays alto saxophone and occasionally stiltwalks. Find out more on her website or follow her on Twitter @vogontroubadour.

It’s an exciting time to be a comic book fan. There are so many wonderful superheroes out there to choose from. I personally fell in love with the genre thanks to Squirrel Girl, AKA Doreen Green. So I was thrilled to learn about La Borinqueña, an Afro-Puerto Rican superhero, who works to protect and save her fellow Puerto Ricans. 

The series began in 2016 and the third book just published in 2021, ending the first arc of La Borinqueña’s story. On top of creating a kick-ass superhero, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez has created a whole philanthropic arm to give funds to Puerto Rican nonprofits, which as someone who works in fundraising, I find to be quite remarkable. I was fortunate enough to get to talk to Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, creator and graphic novelist, about his incredible superhero.

Who exactly is La Borinqueña?

La Borinquena comic cover featuring the titular character in her red, white, and blue superhero costume with the same colors in the background

La Borinqueña

Marisol Rios De La Luz is a young undergraduate with a fascination in geology who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She decides to take a semester in Puerto Rico to study the unique geology there but when she arrives she finds that all of her classes have been canceled at the University of Puerto Rico thanks to budget cuts. Determined to pursue her studies and learn more about her homeland, she starts an independent study, venturing into caves and studying rocks at her grandfather’s cafe. On one of her trips, she stumbles upon five crystals that result in her meeting the Taino deities, Atabex, Huracan, and Yucahu, who give her the powers of the island and make her into La Borinqueña.

Interwoven into the story of Marisol and her family and friends is the story of Puerto Rico and its current economic and political crisis. It’s not for nothing that La Borinquena fights catastrophic weather, corporations seeking to pollute the island, as well as dealing with closed universities and schools, attending student protests and more. 

Marisol is so relatable. She’s a young person who has an insatiable curiosity about her culture and her given area of study, geology, and has a sense of what’s right and wrong. I think a lot of people can see themselves in Marisol when they were her age and now.

In 2021, La Borinquena also partnered with Chocolate Cortés, a Puerto Rican family-owned chocolate manufacturer, to release La Borinqueña co-branded chocolate bars with special new comics inside the wrappers. Carlos Cortés, Creative Director at Chocolate Cortés and fourth generation of the Cortés family, said of La Borinqueña that it was important to have a role model, which was lacking when he was growing up. “I hope that [La Borinqueña and the partnership] inspires at least one child to feel like they can be a superhero.”

How was La Borinqueña created?

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez explained that he wanted to create “a project to engage to talk about Puerto Rico using popular culture.” This desire came out of the mid-2016 announcement by then Governor Padilla that they were going to default on the $800 million debt payment. Miranda-Rodriguez wanted to engage people in a conversation about Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony that was 123 years old, with a population of 3 million U.S. citizens who were still being treated like second-class citizens. He wanted to put front and center how the years of codependency led to this financial exposure resulting in a humanitarian crisis with schools closing, public tuition going up and so much more.

Miranda-Rodriguez had grown up reading comic books as a part of the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York. and He “always loved the potential that the stories had to inspire heroism in real life.” He remembers marching in protests for justice against police brutality and then finding himself in a comic book store because “the narratives which centered around overcoming villainy and overcoming injustice affirmed what I was doing in my real life.” 

Taking his established platform as a graphic novelist and writer of titles like Guardians of the Galaxy, Miranda-Rodriguez decided to create La Borinqueña. He explained that it “was an opportunity to reconnect to the activism of my youth, and truly bring this story of Puerto Rico’s colonial status history, its people into a different packaged discussion.” However, he knew he had a challenge to create a narrative and avoid it being too political too much like a soap box. La Borinqueña made her debut at the Puerto Rican parade in 2016 and the original outfit is showcased at the Smithsonian, which is pretty awesome. 

For me, he manages to interweave the economic and sociopolitical challenges facing the island into the plot without making them the sole focus. Instead, we’re shown the beauty of Puerto Rican culture and history and enjoy Marisol’s journey as well. The cancellation of classes at the university is what causes Marisol to do her own research, which results in finding crystals that make her into a superhero. Even issues of race and colorism come up in brief encounters — like a first meeting between Marisol and another Puerto Rican woman, who would later become a friend, at Marisol’s grandfather’s restaurant. All of these issues help propel the plot forward and help Marisol become the superhero that Puerto Rico needed. For Miranda-Rodriguez, he ultimately wanted people to not only learn about ourselves through Marisol’s journey, but learn about Puerto Rico in a new way.

A Superhero in Real Life

Ricanstruction cover

Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico Edited by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez

We expect superheroes to save the world or a small part of it. We read comic books and watch movies to see our favorite characters show grit and determination to save lives and protect ideals. But we don’t often expect that work to translate into the real world. Not only has Miranda-Rodriguez created a great role model, he’s also been able to transfer that work to charity.

Thanks to a partnership with DC Comics in 2018, La Borinquena fought alongside Wonder Woman and other DC superheroes in Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico, to raise funds after Hurricane Maria. Writers like Greg Pak, Gail Simone, and many other heavy hitters contributed to the anthology. Miranda-Rodriguez and his team, Kyung Jeon-Miranda (his wife) and Lisa Wood, won a 2019 Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award at the Eisner Awards. Thanks to profits from the book, Miranda-Rodriguez was able to create a grants program for Puerto Rican nonprofits. He explained, this made “us the only comic book that is not only dedicated to charity, activism, and social justice, but also is owning its own nonprofit organization.” 

As someone who works in fundraising for nonprofits, that’s really quite remarkable. Thanks to Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez for creating such a delightful superhero and developing a grants program to ensure that the good work keeps going off the page.

Want to read more about Puerto Rico? Check out this list of Puerto Rican writers or this essay on Growing up a Puerto Rican YA Reader.