A report by Richy Rosario for Vibe.
With La Borinqueña’s first issue, expertly scribed by graphic novelist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, it’s safe to say we’re getting something that’s been missing. In drawing up Marisol Rios De La Luz, an Afro-Boricua student at Columbia University from Brooklyn – who turns into a superhero – Miranda-Rodriguez is shining light on the magic of Latinas of all shades.
Marisol, an Earth and Environmental Studies major at the New York Ivy League, treks to Puerto Rico to complete a semester abroad in partnership with the University of Puerto Rico. Once there, she stays with her grandparents, and works at their small cafeteria. In one scene, a Eurocentric-looking young woman by the name of Sofia enters the shop, belittling Marisol because of her dark complexion. “It’s just like on Sin Pan No Hay Paraiso! I’m the star, of course and you’re la morena cocinando!,” Sofia says brashly.
Here, Miranda-Rodriguez cleverly interpolates the plight of colorism within the Latino community. For centuries, those who are of lighter hues with more European-like features get the upper hand. That addition makes La Borinqueña not just a comic book, but also a meticulously constructed lesson plan on society and Puerto Rico’s most topical issues. There’s mention of La Isla Del Encanto’s drowning economy and environmental issues. The Puerto Rican artist also includes the recent mass shooting at Pulse, an Orlando gay club, which took the lives of many queer Latinxs.
Apart from its intellect and timeliness, La Borinqueña is also dotted with the mysticism and magic that makes a comic book plot good. When exploring the caves of the island, Marisol stumbles upon five crystals. Once the crystals are all together, Taino mother goddess Atabex appears and orders her sons Juracan—spirit of the hurricanes, and Yúcahu—spirt of the seas and mountains, to grant Marisol super human powers. These powers then allow her to fly and control storms. Soon after, she executes her first mission, and saves the town of Aguadilla from a terrorizing storm.
Miranda-Rodriguez excels at showcasing Puerto Rican culture, both, in New York City and on the island. There’s Los Sures, a Puerto Rican enclave in the 70s and 80s, which is now present-day (gentrified) Williamsburg. Readers will also get small interludes of culturally-significant entities with the likes of “Chango”, and traditional cuisine, like delicious Pasteles en hoja. To the average Latinx millennial, these cultural norms might seem familiar, yet Miranda infuses what seems like an anomaly in mainstream media.
Lauren “Lala” Liu is Marisol’s best friend. Lala is Chinese-Dominican, and lives in Washington Heights. Her family comes from the Barrio Chino (Chinatown) sector of the Dominican Republic’s capital city, Santo Domingo. Often times, you’ll get the story of a singular ethnic group, which migrate to the states for a better life. But here, Mr. Edgardo adds another layer to that narrative. Both characters showcase the intersection between culture and race. Each character’s story also provide more depth to the storyline. Marisol is a doctor’s daughter, and attends a prestigious university. Lala comes more from a working class background with less resources.
This character development is refreshing to see, considering people of color are always typecast, often falsely. More drug dealers and strippers, less lawyers, super heroes or doctors. This, in turn, diminishes the Latino community’s representation in the arts.
The Brooklyn-based artist echoes these sentiments: “I was frustrated with the fact that for so long, people of color, especially Latinos, were invisible,” he told The Brooklyn Reporter. “I’m tired of us as Latinos acclimating to the mainstream culture. My good friend [actor] John Leguizamo said it best, “all we do as Latinos is constantly explain ourselves and anglicize ourselves.”
By intermixing Puerto Rican and Dominican-Chinese culture in one storyline, and taking his characters from Puerto Rico to Harlem to Washington Heights to Brooklyn—Miranda-Rodriguez crafts a superb tale. It has history, spunk, and keeps you wanting more. By simply just existing, La Borinqueña gives young girls of color permission to feel belonged.
Purchase La Borinqueña, here.