La Borinqueña is back on the headlines — and, might I add, just in time.
“La Borinqueña Starring Rosario Dawson,” which was released internationally this week on April 6, is a graphic novel that speaks on the importance of a clean energy transition in Puerto Rico.
If we’re being honest, what the island relies on at the moment is not sustainable.
In fact, at the time of writing this article, Puerto Rico is currently facing yet another blackout or apagón where about 350,000 Puerto Ricans were left without power. This was all due to a fire at one of Puerto Rico’s largest power plants.
Puerto Rico’s government said it would be restored in 24 hours. So now we can only wait for LUMA, the island’s national energy provider, to abide by these expectations.
Nevertheless, “La Borinqueña Starring Rosario Dawson” will give more people the chance to meet a Latina superhero; one that proudly bores her Puerto Rican roots, while bringing to light issues that are relevant to her community.
That’s part of the reason why La Borinqueña has amassed so much success in such a short amount of time; it touches on points tangible to humanity. Unlike other mainstream superhero media content that focuses on the supernatural, she fights the mortal fight, just as we humans do in our day-to-day lives – but with superpowers.
Identity as a superpower
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, the author and creator of “La Borinqueña Starring Rosario Dawson,” told BELatina in a recent conversation that the way “La Borinqueña’s” franchise blew up seemed to be out of nowhere.
I'm so excited to announce the release of the newest issue of @LaBorinquena_GN!
Created by @MrEdgardoNYC and produced with support from @NRDC, this graphic novel showcases Puerto Rico’s resilience in the fight against climate change.
Get your copy here: https://t.co/LXtBPnhFxX pic.twitter.com/7jdOBhXsMN
— Rosario Dawson (@rosariodawson) April 6, 2022
His passion begins with his identity, which translates into the characters he created for “La Borinqueña.”
Miranda-Rodriguez, whose lively voice echoed throughout the other end of my phone’s speaker, introduced himself with his complete name. “Edgardo Miranda,” he said as he rolled his r’s far enough to reach the cerulean blue beaches of Culebra, Puerto Rico.
Raised by a single Puerto Rican mom in New York, Miranda-Rodriguez recalls the difficulties he faced early on. From extreme poverty to running away from arson, it was a tough time to grow up in New York, especially since people of color were aggressively othered by the locals.
“Similar to many other immigrants — even though we’re not immigrants because we are citizens for people of color — we still suffered discrimination,” he said. “And I grew up, unfortunately, in one of the most difficult periods of New York City.”
“There were a lot of landlords that were burning down their properties because they wanted to make more money from the insurance and from rent.”
Being discriminated against for their identity led to a disconnect from humanity, but humanity was never lost on Miranda-Rodriguez. He moved through life admiring the smallest details.
Though his work is now lauded by multitudes of people, this comic book author, who is rapidly becoming a household name, once had to rush out of his home on the back of his neighbor because his home was set on fire. A tough situation for any child to even process, yet the smell of his neighbor’s son’s burning hair is still fresh in his memory.
“I remember he had the most lovely smelling Afro. It was like a coconut,” Miranda-Rodriguez reminisced.
“And I was like six or seven, riding piggyback on him back down the fire escape as our building burned.”
Miranda-Rodriguez is a survivor in many ways, but the man he is today is fueled by many other instances and experiences as well.
The first page of a success story
Prior to writing the original “La Borinqueña,” he had finished writing his first book for Marvel. Shortly after it was published, it started trending on social media. He even received a phone call from his cousin in Puerto Rico letting him know that his comic book had gotten mentioned in the local newspaper.
While it hadn’t hit him how much of an impact the book had, he did, however, “nerd out” to his accomplishment by having his wife take a picture of him holding the book in a local comic book store in New York.
That right there was the beginning of his virality. The picture Miranda-Rodriguez posted on social media went viral and it started getting picked up by various publications where people were reviewing his book.
“Then, I started recognizing, ‘oye, hay hambre.’” Meaning, he had stumbled upon something there was a need for.
From that moment on, institutions started reaching out to work with him, including the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
“They reached out to me, and they were like, we want to honor you,” Miranda-Rodriguez remembered.
“And I’m like, ‘¿pa’ que?’”
To which they responded, “we want to honor you for being this writer at Marvel.”
Though his contribution to the comic book industry was growing in popularity, his humility towards all the praise he was receiving was extensive.
“I just wrote one book and I was thinking that I’m not like George Pérez, who’s a Puerto Rican artist who has almost 40 years in his career creating close to seventy original characters between Marvel and DC, penning and illustrating such stories that gave birth to the likes of the Avengers, Infinity War, Endgame, all those big movies,” he said. “Even Wonder Woman.”
“And here I am with one book y me quieren alzar en una carroza to which I was like ‘¡ay dejate de todo eso!’”
But even though he wasn’t letting all the celebration towards him go to his head, he knew what he had at hand was huge. He knew this was an opportunity.
He reached out to the parade and introduced them to the new character he was developing – and they took interest immediately. Meanwhile, Miranda-Rodriguez had only filled out three pages in a sketchbook about it.
This didn’t deter the organizers. They urged him to debut it at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
The first Borinqueña is born
La Borinqueña’s story was still in the works, but they gave him a float ready to present her. They wanted La Borinqueña at the parade.
“So, I asked a young law student who had just graduated from UC Berkeley, Stephanie Llanes Martin, to dress up as La Borinqueña for the Puerto Rican Day Parade,” Miranda-Rodriguez remembers.
He had two designers from Puerto Rico work on the design of the original costume and they fed-exed it to him two days before the parade.
He recalls children wearing T-shirts with La Borinqueña and how they looked when they saw a superhero that looked like them — one that flaunted the flags they were waving as well.
“I was standing there with Stephanie and sometimes standing behind her — just sucking this all in because nobody knew who I was.”
“They all saw this character, and even though it was the first time they saw her, they loved her. They’re taking selfies and pictures. And that’s really how it all started happening.”
After realizing that there was something ready to burst from his idea and impressive imagination, he started to work on writing the book. He knew that was the next step. His wife, Kyung, knew that was the step. They knew this is what needed to happen.
“Kyung and I started talking about making a big book, a really big book. And that’s what it turned into. That’s why the first issue had that 40-page story plus the twelve-page bonus story with La La Liu.”
Miranda-Rodriguez debuted the first issue of La Borinqueña at the Aguada Comic Fest five years ago.
A character to deconstruct machismo
Creating a superheroine came with a lot of questions influenced by the machismo culture deeply rooted in the Latino society, and that Miranda-Rodriguez experienced first-hand.
People often ask him why he chose to create a woman superhero, a question he knows no one would ever ask if his character was a man. All in all, Miranda-Rodriguez understands how this is embedded in society’s incessant need to question women.
However, the author was clear from the get-go how important it was for “La Borinqueña” to exist.
“In popular culture, particularly from the Western point of view, everything is very much a white male narrative or even a male narrative,” he told us.
“And everything else is secondary.”
Let’s be real. Women take the backburner, even if it’s a fictional character. It’s been depicted through popular culture for decades. We’ve usually been fed the “damsel in distress” archetype as opposed to the strong and courageous woman. Still, if we are given access to an empowering narrative regarding women, it is riddled with a portrayal of a hypersexualized character to satisfy the typical male gaze.
“If a woman has the opportunity to be the lead, there’s always a way that her relationship, her personal romantic relationship, makes its way into the narrative,” the author explained. “However, when men are written, men get to have exploits without being tethered to anything.”
So, how did Miranda-Rodriguez know to create a character that society wasn’t used to seeing while respecting women’s voices? Well, he’s been mentored, as he says, by incredibly strong women who helped shape the man he is today.
“It’s all from being mentored by women, associating myself with feminist ideology, a woman’s perspective, and woman’s rights,” the deconstructed Latino says.
This led him to ultimately challenge toxic masculinity and the patriarchy.
Climate change as a point of intersection
During our conversation, as a true creative, Miranda-Rodriguez was multitasking. In fact, he was editing his new book while speaking with me that day. He explained it was the first time he was directly publishing a story with a specific message around climate change and the need for a transition to renewable energy.
In this new book, Rosario Dawson is drawn to use her voice for climate change. By having someone who maneuvers real-life superstardom and has now dived into the fantastical world of “La Borinqueña” with superpowers, Miranda-Rodriguez was able to merge both realities.
“I feel that in order for this project to continually grow, it needs to eventually take a position on issues that affect us all,” the author said.
Hopefully, this book is gifted to Puerto Rican government officials because LUMA isn’t cutting it. Puerto Rican people don’t deserve continuous blackouts. No one does – especially not in 2022.
Grab a copy of La Borinqueña Starring Rosario Dawson by visiting Forbidden Planet!
La Borinqueña Starring Rosario Dawson was created thanks to the support from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit organization working to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.