When my oldest daughter was 3, we would sit together in her bean bag chair, turn off the lights, and watch the Justice League animated series. Here she learned about superheros and when she started becoming interested in comics, I wanted to make sure she read something that represented and looked like her so I handed her a copy of Araña. That was five years ago, and now she is 12 and is immersed in finding representation in what she reads.
It’s small stories like this that amplify the importance of diversity in literature and, in this case, comics. It is for that reason that the launching of Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez’s La Borinqueña comes at a much needed time.
La Borinqueña is the story of Marisol Rios De La Luz, an undergraduate college student majoring in Earth and Environmental Science at Columbia University who, while studying abroad in Puerto Rico, explores the caves and collects special crystal fragments. Once they are all collected and formed, Atabex, the Taino Mother Goddess appears and with the help of her sons Juracan and Yucahu give Marisol her superhuman strength and the power of flight and control of the wind.
In this special issue created for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s pop-up “CTRL+ALT” exhibit in New York earlier in the month, we find Marisol and her best friend Lauren “La La” Liu walking back from a party in Brooklyn. As they talk about how great the night walk they decide to take a selfie and in the picture capture some people loading barrels into a van. The next morning La La is talking to Mari as she is going through the pictures she took the night before and makes a discovery. The barrels that were being loaded into the van read Peñuelas, and after a discussion of how it sounds like pañales, diapers, Mari connects the barrels to the environmental dilemma happening in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico. The TV news running in the background confirms Mari’s theory. It seems that waste management companies are dumping waste in landfills and not being regulated due to the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and there are no resources to clean up the landfills or launch an investigation.
In the midst of the conversation, La La, while riding her long board almost gets hit by the same people that were in the van the night before. When they see her, they decide to take her phone away as they fear there is incriminating evidence from the night before. Mari and La La meet up for food and talk about what these last events may mean. It is here where we dwell more on the history between La La and Mari and how they share a secret about the past that makes the bond between both stronger. We find out that after La La’s parent migrated to New York, Mari’s mother was the one that helped them deliver La La in the hospital as well as got the medical expenses covered by an organization.
It is this introduction to La La’s backstory where we get to see why Miranda-Rodriguez was commissioned to create this short story for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. La La is Chinese-Dominican and one of the few Asian Latinx characters ever portrayed in comics — or in media at all.
“As I’m independently publishing my comic book, I couldn’t afford to give La La Liu a bigger part in the first issue,” he told Huffington Post recently. “She was originally just a small character. However, with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center CTRL+ALT exhibition that debuted on November 12 and 13, I’ve seen the amazing response that she’s been getting from women in general who love her story, her look and her attitude. I look forward to making her a larger part of the La Borinqueña series should I have a strong enough response to help me work on a second issue.”
The beauty of La Borinqueña for me is that we have brown women saving the world (shout out to Korra) and that in itself is extremely powerful. For we all know that representation of POC characters in all types of media is not where it should be, but this comic is the standard I would like to see.
This is something I can hand to my daughter and have a dialogue and discussion about not only environmental issues but also the economical situation that Puerto Rico is currently in. The way the environmental and political were sewn into the comic was very well thought out and from the get go you get a sense of this is a reflection of reality.
Last night, my mother called me and as mothers do, y me dijo, el lenguaje es cultura. Language is culture and that is present in the dialogue between La La and Mari throughout the whole strip. It invites the reader, especially this one, to a place that you may be familiar. Perhaps not around the exact lingo but the atmosphere and the language it creates. A safe linguistic space that Puerto Ricans and other brown folks can relate to. I gravitated more towards La La as we learned more about her story, and I hope to do the same with Mari.
Overall, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and team (from all parts of the Puerto Rican Diaspora) have done a great job in introducing new life into the comic book world by adding La Borinqueña, and I look forward to reading more about her in the upcoming month. The first issue will be out December 22 online at the official website, which happens to coincide with the 121st anniversary of the Puerto Rican flag. Sign up, spread the word, and join me in celebrating La Borinqueña!