Keep your eyes peeled for a light blue cape this week as Puerto Rican superhero La Borinqueña soars into Philadelphia's Amalgam Coffee and Comics book store.
Created by Puerto Rican writer and Marvel illustrator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, La Borinqueña is a young, Puerto Rican female superhero who defies stereotypes. Unlike other comic book characters, she does not fight supervillains. Instead, she battles the humanitarian crisis facing Puerto Rico while cloaked in the colors of the island’s original flag.
“Most cultural icons have been written from the position of white privilege," Miranda-Rodriguez told NBC10. “I wanted to create a character that was unapologetically patriotic and truly representative of my heritage.”
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For inspiration, Miranda-Rodriguez looked to the women in his life, including his own sister who shares a name with the superhero he created. When La Borinqueña is not flying around helping Puerto Rico, Marisol is a senior at Columbia University studying environmental science.
Miranda-Rodriguez’s mentors, author Iris Morales and New York University professor Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, also inspired him to create a character who challenged the patriarchal world of superheroes.
La Boriqueña is not scantily clad like Wonder Woman or Catwoman. Instead, she wears sweats and uses an inhaler to "reflect young women today," Miranda-Rodriguez said.
“I think we’re producing images, as a culture, that are hurtful for young women to see,” he said. “Superman was about creating the image of the perfect man and the women were always portrayed as the [damsels] in distress.”
These conventional depictions influenced the founding of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, the city's only black woman-owned comic book store. A connoisseur of all things superhero, Ariell Johnson noticed that women of color were barely represented in comics and there were virtually no shops owned by them. Like Marisol, she wanted to change that.
“There are not enough creators of color, queer creators, women creators and it’s the result of the industry as a whole not valuing those voices on a larger scale,” she said. “The focus of Amalgam is to celebrate diverse voices in comics.”
La Borinqueña’s mission, however, extends beyond Miranda-Rodriguez’s goal to diversify the medium. She also tackles problems currently facing the Puerto Rican community. In the series' first issue, for instance, La Boriqueña does not fight a supervillain. She fights a hurricane.
Miranda-Rodriguez was inspired by his own research into Puerto Rico’s history and the island's present-day political, economic and structural woes. His research helped him understand the devastation that a natural disaster could cause and it allowed him to write about a fictitious natural disaster nine months before the very real Hurricane Maria struck.
When it did, the storm's effects reverberated far beyond the island. To alleviate the humanitarian crisis left in the storm's wake, Philadelphia opened a Disaster Assistance Services Center in October 2017 to help people who self-evacuated from Puerto Rico find housing and obtain medical care.
But the city has not provided the support people truly need, Philadelphia-based artist and activist Grimaldi Baez said.
Baez, whose family evacuated from Puerto Rico after the hurricane, has visited the island several times since the storm hit. He met people living in tarps and shared food with those who could barely feed themselves. In Philadelphia, he helped hurricane victims register as homeless in order to receive services.
“Things that affect the island affect people here,” Baez said. “You had a lot of people coming here who were in need of resources that were already scarce. You had families coming who were not able to access housing."
Women, like those who influenced Miranda-Rodriguez, largely led the relief efforts, Baez said.
“It was mothers, it was teachers, it was librarians, it was social workers, it was women putting in time,” he said.
And just like in the real world, the consequences of Hurricane Maria persist beyond La Borinqueña's first issue. In the second issue, Marisol finds herself in the midst of the island’s recovery where people are protesting the displacement of families and wildlife.
Marisol also discovers, in the second issue, that she can travel through time and learns how Puerto Rico’s present-day struggles are connected to its colonial history.
“I knew that Puerto Rico would not be able to recover [from a massive storm] because it was operating on an electrical grid from the 1950s,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “I’m creating this book that is earmarking these historical events. It’s not conjured by my imagination.”
Miranda-Rodriguez will be in Philadelphia Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. to sign copies of the "La Borinqueña’s" second issue at Amalgam Comics.