In Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez’s comics series La Borinqueña, the eponymous superhero swoops down to Puerto Rico to solve problems that range from guiding lost turtles to rescuing people from a hurricane. Turns out the Puerto Rican superwoman comes to the rescue in real life, too.
Miranda-Rodriguez created La Borinqueña five years ago as a superhero who would entertain readers with her superpowered adventures, express Puerto Rican pride, and make more people aware of the island’s economic problems. Just like in the comics, though, there have been unexpected twists, and La Borinqueña and her creator are not only raising awareness of Puerto Rico and its dilemmas, but is also raising cold, hard cash to help Puerto Ricans recover from Hurricane Maria, fend off the pandemic, and move toward self-determination.
The third volume of La Borinqueña (with artist Will Rosado) will come out this month, and Miranda-Rodriguez plans to do a book tour in the fall. He will be bringing chocolate: He contracted with the 92-year-old chocolate maker Chocolate Cortés P.R., to include an original, four-episode La Borinqueña story on the inner wrappers of its bars. Proceeds from the sale of the limited-edition chocolate bars will go to the Fundación Cortés as part of the La Borinqueña Grants Program, which distributes grants to local nonprofits.
Miranda-Rodriguez is the founder of the Somos Arte design studio and was editor-in-chief for Darryl Makes Comics, the comics imprint founded by Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels. In 2015, Marvel commissioned McDaniels and Miranda-Rodriguez to create a story for its Guardians of Infinity series (later collected as Guardians of the Galaxy: Tales of the Cosmos). Their story involved the Marvel characters of Groot and The Thing, and since he didn’t know much about outer space, Miranda-Rodriguez decided to set it on the Lower East Side of New York City. One of the characters he created for the comic, an Afro-Puerto Rican grandmother, went viral, and Miranda-Rodriguez started getting invitations to Puerto Rican cultural events.
That sowed the seed for La Borinqueña, which is the name of the Puerto Rican national anthem, and a variation on Borikén, the name the indigenous Taíno people called the island. When he was invited to be part of the 2016 Puerto Rican Day parade in New York, where he lived, Miranda-Rodriguez asked the organizers if they were interested in his character, who at that point was just a concept sketch. They were, so he made up a cover and unveiled it at their press conference. The crowd went wild, and major media outlets, including the New York Times, picked up the story, and Miranda-Rodriguez found himself and his nascent comic book suddenly in demand.
He used the press attention to talk not just about La Borinqueña, but also about the colonial status of Puerto Rico and the economic crisis it was going through; even before the hurricane, the government had an $80 billion debt and no way to pay for it. Miranda-Rodriguez decided to self-publish his comic, because, he said, “If I went to a major publisher and was greenlit, the earliest it would come out would be in two years This was urgent. We need to talk about it now.”
La Borinqueña’s alter ego is Marisol Rios De La Luz, a young Brooklyn resident studying environmental science at Columbia University, who goes to stay with family in Puerto Rico while doing research. She eventually receives her superpowers from a Taino goddess and her sons. Miranda-Rodriguez said that the character of Marisol is not politicized: “She is not liberal or conservative. She’s trying to figure it out. I intentionally wrote a story around the perspective of a college student who gets to go away. When you are living away, it’s a massive paradigm shift. It will either move you closer to the ideology you grew up with or take you in a completely different direction. That’s what I wanted to do with Marisol.”
Miranda-Rodriguez designed La Borinqueña’s costume himself, blending elements from the current Puerto Rican flag and an older one, and worked with his studio to create the comic. “I wanted to craft a storyline that would take morsels of history and weave them into a narrative,” he said. “I wanted to create my own version of historical fiction, as opposed to creating a story around historical figures.”
Since Somos Arte is “literally a mom and pop art studio,” as Miranda-Rodriguez put it, he couldn’t afford to distribute the comic through the usual channels; instead, he brought it to cultural centers, festivals, and universities, where it was picked up and taught in Latinx culture courses.
Shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, Miranda-Rodriguez was at New York Comic Con. There he met former DC co-publisher Dan DiDio and persuaded DC to do a benefit anthology for Puerto Rico with permission to use DC's signature superhero characters. Other artists quickly signed on, and in May 2018 Miranda-Rodriguez and Somos Arte published Ricanstruction, an anthology featuring contributions by such noted DC artists as Frank Miller, Gail Simone, Greg Pak, Denys Cowans, Gabby Rivera and others.
Diamond Comics Distributors distributed the book at cost and offered free advertising and marketing, and the book raised over $200,000. Miranda-Rodriguez and his wife, Kyung Jeon-Miranda, set up the La Borinqueña Grants Program to donate the proceeds to local, grass-roots organizations in Puerto Rico. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, La Borinqueña and Miranda-Rodriguez swung into action once more and raised over $200,000 for Masks for America, which provided PPE to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic in Puerto Rico and throughout the rest of the country.
The second issue of La Borinqueña (with artists Manual Preitano and Will Rosado) came out in June 2018, with a plot that revolved around political turmoil and social justice. At the 2019 Eisner Awards ceremony held at the San Diego Comic-Con, Miranda-Rodriguez received the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award and made a heartfelt speech. “At the very same time, there were hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans marching through the streets of San Juan, calling for the resignation of the corrupt governor,” he said. (The governor at the time was Ricardo Rosselló, who subsequently stepped down.)
In his acceptance speech, Miranda-Rodriguez denounced Rosselló and paid homage to those who had suffered. The next day, his phone lit up with notifications and with images of a young woman in a blue cape at the protests. “La Borinqueña esta aqui,” people were saying to him. La Borinqueña is here.
Miranda-Rodriguez looked at the pictures on his phone. Among the images of the protest were photographs of a young Afro-Puerto Rican woman wearing a homemade La Borinqueña costume, holding a sign denouncing the governor.
“I thought to myself, ‘We have made it,’” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “When I was in San Diego, there was a part of me that really wanted to be marching, but when I saw that a woman was dressed as La Borinqueña, I was like, ‘We are there.’ She has become a symbol that goes beyond whatever I can write.”