Edgardo Miranda: Boricua illustrator to the rescue
Superheroes emerge when the world needs them most and, right now, Puerto Rico could really use its own caped crusader. Meet La Boriqueña. She is tough, she is proud and she is most definitely Boricua.
Created by Marvel illustrator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, La Boriqueña represents a very different kind of hero than those usually depicted in comic books or on the big screen. She is not white and she is not scantily clad. She is also not the brainchild of some corporate marketing scheme. Instead, La Boriqueña is wholly independent.
Enveloped in the red, white and blue of the Puerto Rican flag, she is both a social activist and a girl next door.
“I thought about all the women in my life … like my mother, like my sister … and I started thinking that I should create a character from own neighborhood,” Miranda-Rodriguez says.
A Brooklyn native, La Boriqueña’s real name is Marisol Rios de la Luz. She is a senior at Columbia University who lives with her parents but unlocks her powers after visiting Puerto Rico for the first time. There, Marisol, who was named after Miranda-Rodriguez’s sister, discovers that she can fly like a hurricane and teleport anywhere in the world.
Her strength rivals that of the ocean.
Like Miranda-Rodriguez, La Boriqueña is a social activist at heart. The New York native organized, protested and even got kicked out of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in his 20s. As Miranda-Rodriguez got older, the budding illustrator watched Puerto Rico continue to struggle with a shrinking economy and lack of political sovereignty. It gnawed at him until he found a new way to speak out through comic books.
“I wanted to create something positive, something inspiring,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “I keep telling myself [La Boriqueña] is just a comic book, but people really need something to hold onto.”
Miranda-Rodriguez first started collecting comics when he was a child. He paid for them with whatever change he could scrounge up through selling plastic bottles and drawing comic for his friends. Luckily for him, comic books only cost $.50 at the time. Inside their pages Miranda-Rodriguez found solace from the daily struggles of life as a poor Latino growing up in New York City where he frequently faced violence and discrimination.
He refers to his early love of comic books as “pure escapism,” but the need to seek something better felt very real at the time and continues to inform his creations. Many of Miranda-Rodriguez’s characters are biographical in nature. Both he and La Boriqueña are from the same neighborhood and both from low-income families that struggle to achieve the American Dream. Like La Boriqueña, Miranda-Rodriguez’s family didn’t have money for vacations, so he only heard about Puerto Rico from friends and relatives while growing up. The island took on an almost mythical quality until his single mother married and relocated the family to her husband’s rural hometown.
Moving from a big city to the middle of a small island was difficult for Miranda-Rodriguez. The only comfort he had most of that time was his precious collection of comic books, which he reverently carted across the Atlantic Ocean in a box.
“I would reread them and redraw them constantly,” he says. “I tried to keep them in the best condition so I could still enjoy them.”
Eventually his mother divorced and the family was whisked away to another part of Puerto Rico. It was there in the small city of Ceiba that Miranda-Rodriguez found inspiration for another character.
Earlier this year, Miranda-Rodriguez revealed that Marvel’s Groot, a beloved tree who stole hearts in 2014’s blockbuster film “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is of Puerto Rican descent. The arborescent character, whose three simple words – “I am Groot” – endeared him to millions of superhero fans, is the star of a new comic, “Guardians of Infinity 3,” in which Groot teams up with Fantastic Four’s Thing to defeat an evil villain in New York City. The villain, named Plantman, possesses Groot and convinces him to turn against Thing. The only person who can save Groot is Abuela Estela, a Puerto Rican matriarch who educates Groot about his ancestors, the wise and ancient ceiba trees, found today throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The notion of creating a superhero tied to ancestry was nothing new to Marvel, whose wildly popular character Thor is directly linked to a Norse god of the same name.
But Groot, Abuela Estela and now La Boriqueña speak to a singularly American audience whose diversity cannot be overstated. Miranda-Rodriguez’s experience growing up with a single mother taught him a lot about the power of women, especially those living on a limited income or those fighting for some kind of justice in the world. He was inspired by those people, and never really understood why Wonder Woman, for example, was depicted fighting evil in stiletto heels and bustiers.
“How weird would it look if Superman had more than just his feet and hands exposed?” Miranda-Rodriguez jokes. “That wouldn’t make sense. Wonder Woman’s costume doesn’t make sense.”
The timing behind La Boriqueña is not coincidental as Puerto Rico continues to face a crippling $70 million debt. The U.S. territory was hit hard, again, over the weekend when a gunman killed 49 people inside an Orlando nightclub. At least half of the victims were Puerto Rican.
Miranda-Rodriguez was busy preparing to unveil La Boriqueña at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade when he heard about the massacre. Suddenly, bringing a superhero to life took on a whole new importance. To do so, he chose a young woman whose own life embodied the hope and positivity of La Boriqueña.
Stephanie Llanes is a 28-year-old from Santurce, Puerto Rico. She recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, but has a background in music. She performed under the stage name Felina and released two reggaeton albums in English before deciding to pursue higher education.
“When I was 19, moral decisions drove me to … steer my life in a different direction,” she told the New York Daily News.
When she’s not busy being a superhero, Llanes is studying for the bar exam and plans to start working at the Center for Constitutional Rights in September. Like Miranda- Rodriguez and now La Boriqueña, Llanes was active in the Black Lives Matter and Oscar Lopez Rivera movement. The latter is currently been serving a 34-year prison sentence in the United States for waging a violent call to Puerto Rican independence in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Miranda-Rodriguez hired a team of Puerto Rican costume designers to create La Boriqueña’s look for the parade. He wanted to keep her attire authentic for superhero geeks and inspiring for a new generation of social activists.
“We need a hero now more than ever,” Miranda-Rodriguez explains. “We need a symbol – something to inspire us, something I can use as a platform to take this complex economic and political discourse and translate it in a way that every abuela and abuelito and child can understand.”
La Boriqueña is slated to be released this fall. Follow @MrEdgardoNYC on Twitter to learn more about her debut.