La Borinqueña: A Superheroine for All Puerto Ricans

Edgardo Miranda-Rodríguez's comic book seeks to educate people about Puerto Rico's economic crisis. (Photo by William Alatriste, provided to El Diario)

Edgardo Miranda-Rodríguez’s comic book seeks to educate people about Puerto Rico’s economic crisis. (Photo by William Alatriste, provided to El Diario)

For Edgardo Miranda-Rodríguez, real superheroes emerge from our daily life and, while they remain loyal to their native countries, their struggle transcends borders. That is the motivation behind “La Borinqueña,” the latest comic book by the New York artist of Puerto Rican descent.

The superheroine encompasses the diversity of the Boricua identity, and is betting on achieving the dream of unity, as represented by the lone star on her country’s flag.

In her spirit, she carries us all: those born and raised here, those who live on the island and also the diaspora.

Like that of many Puerto Ricans, Miranda-Rodríguez’s life was marked by poverty and sacrifice. From an early age, he knew that he had to become his own superhero.

Miranda-Rodríguez lived with his mother and siblings in the turbulent South Bronx. He says that he remembers clearly how strangers snatched a bag of groceries from him as he walked home one day.

On another occasion, as the Bronx “burned” in the midst of the city’s social and economic collapse of the 1970s, he survived a fire at the apartment he shared with his family. Some neighbors rescued him just in time.

Art as a tool

Despite the difficulties, Miranda-Rodríguez was able to find a way to overcome poverty and crime: art. Through comic books, his brother Alex and his late cousin Santiago de Jesús opened up the door to a different world.

Back in the ’80s, as an elementary school student, Miranda-Rodríguez made drawings and sold them for 50 cents. Sometimes, he would collect cans and receive 5 cents for each one. With the money, he bought the comics that gave him the magic and the hope for better times. They became his passion.

“One of my oldest memories is of my mom grabbing a piece of paper, drawing me a Spider-Man and hanging it on the Christmas tree. That was always a part of my life. Because we were poor, we could not go to galleries or museums. For me, art was fascinating, and comics were accessible. For the working class, it’s an art form and a way to share stories. You did not need to be rich to buy a comic book. They were very cheap in those days,” said the artist.

Miranda-Rodríguez’s struggle did not become easier when he was admitted into Colgate University and given a grant to pursue a degree in art. On the contrary, it became more challenging.

“I was ‘the other’,” he said as he reflected on the instances of racism and discrimination he experienced.

However, like a good Boricua, he fought on. That was the only way to break through stereotypes and find a path to social empowerment.

“I learned that I was more than what they intended to make me feel. That’s when I found out what being Puerto Rican meant: We are a rainbow of people,” said Miranda-Rodríguez, who is also an activist.

With this idea in mind, he applied often-omitted elements of the Taíno culture when he co-wrote a story for Marvel’s “Guardians of Infinity” series.

With “La Borinqueña” – which will appear in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York – the artist seeks to touch on topics relevant to Puerto Ricans inside and outside the island, including the financial crisis and migration.

“In my view, there are too many politicians talking and giving their opinion, but people don’t really understand what is happening in Puerto Rico. I had to find a way to explain it so that they will get it. Now everyone loves superheroes; I thought: ‘Maybe, if I come up with a new symbol…’ And that is ‘La Borinqueña,'” said Miranda-Rodríguez.

Miranda-Rodríguez always knew that his icon would be a woman, just like the earth he kisses every time he sets foot on Puerto Rican soil.

“To me, she represents the best about being Boricua. In my opinion, that has always been embodied in women. There was never a question whether the character would be male or female. When I visit my uncle in Ceiba, the first thing I do is kneel and kiss the ground. It’s like kissing your grandma or your mom,” said the artist.

Women such as Miranda-Rodríguez’s sister Marisol – who is paraplegic – have taught him what it means to be determined and strong. The phrase “la hija del mar y el sol…” – “the daughter of the sun and the sea,” which appears in Puerto Rico’s national anthem (called “La Borinqueña”) – evokes both the song and the words in his sister’s name.

His godmother, Iris Morales, who was one of the first female members of the Young Lords, also had an impact on his artistic career and activism.

“I have always been surrounded by women. ‘La Borinqueña’ represents our history. She is our flag, she is of the people, and that has no copyright. Even though I wasn’t born there, it is a way for me to develop a bridge from here to Puerto Rico for the whole diaspora,” he said.

After traveling through Manhattan during the Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 12, the “La Borinqueña” comic book will be presented in October at the “Café con Comics” event hosted by CUNY. The proceeds will help fund scholarships for Latino students.

More details on this initiative and other projects by Miranda-Rodríguez at: www.studioedgardo.com

2 Comments

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