Let me start out by saying I am not a comic book connoisseur by any means. However, having a partner who knows all there is to know and is passionate about this stuff has forced me to delve deeper into this world. In fact, just this April I had an opportunity to show off my superhero knowledge when I was invited to attend the Indiana Comic Con. However, as I contemplated what my costume would be, I realized more research had to be done.
I started my quest with a simple search for mainstream comic book characters and quickly discovered a few things. First, there weren't many characters that looked like me. Second, although many multicultural superheroes exist, they rarely cross over to mainstream and are therefore not well known. Third, many of the female characters perpetuated cultural and gender stereotypes while also prioritizing sex appeal over personal accomplishments that transferred over to other forms of representation, like film.
I ended up not attending the comic con, but this experience fueled my desire to learn more about representations of diversity in the comic book industry. It also helped me see that the significance of the comic book industry transcends entertainment purposes because it has the power to influence cultural perceptions and affect social change.
This is why I was so excited when I heard the news of a new Puerto Rican superhero, La Borinqueña aka Marisol Rios De La Luz, created by Marvel Comics writer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. It was especially refreshing to see my people getting some positive attention in light of our current debt crisis. As I began to consider the different aspects of her existence, I came to the conclusion that her power and significance don't lie in her superhuman strength or her ability to fly and teleport, but in her ability to reassert and reinvigorate our cultural identity during crisis.
This is not a new concept, in fact, many superheroes emerge when the social environment of a people is in need of reclaiming what has been lost: pride and confidence in the strength of their people and their ability to persevere during difficult times. For example, Superman was created by two men from Jewish immigrant families during the Great Depression as a symbol of hope and pride.
La Borinqueña does this by bringing awareness to our financial crisis in a way that doesn't position us as helpless and hopeless. She represents our capacity to unite, even though our numbers are scattered, and to fight for social justice.
This is evident even in her name, which comes from the Puerto Rican anthem with the words written in 1903 by Manuel Fernandez Juncos after the island was ceded to the U.S. The current anthem is a celebration of our island's physical beauty:
The land of Borinquen
where I was born
is a flowery garden
of magical beauty.
A constantly clear sky
serves as its canopy.
And placid lullabies are sung
by the waves at its feet.
However, this is not the only version that exists. Another version, written by Lola Rodriguez de Tio in 1868, is a revolutionary call to action against Spanish rule:
Now, no longer can
we be unmoved;
now we do not want timidly
to let them subjugate us.
We no longer want despots,
tyranny shall fall now;
the unconquerable women also will
know how to fight.
By acknowledging both versions as influencing La Borinqueña's name, as we should, we acknowledge that we are not only proud of our island, but more importantly that we are willing to fight to defend her. We are empowered to put faith back into ourselves and to trust that together we are strong enough to overcome all obstacles. The artwork clearly communicates this by featuring strong Puerto Rican leaders like Oscar Lopez Rivera, a nationalist leader of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor among many others.
It's clear that La Borinqueña is a symbol of pride, strength, and resilience for Puerto Rican people, but that is not her only significance. Her individual characteristics and varying identities illustrate just some of the struggles faced by Latinas that are not given enough attention.
Marisol Rios De La Luz is an Afro-Latina and this is a huge deal considering our struggles stem from a lack of visibility. What we are often exposed to is a very narrow image of Latinas that don't allow room for our widely diverse traits. It means that Afro-Latinas are not viewed as Latina enough because we fail to accept the fact that being Black and being Latina are not mutually exclusive.
Marisol is also an educated Latina. She is a student at Columbia University studying Earth and Environmental Sciences. That means she could be part of the 3% of Latinas represented in science fields and that's only if she graduates. This could be a struggle since Latinas hold only 7.4% of degrees earned by women. These are only a few of the educational obstacles she might face.
Lastly, Marisol is a Puerto Rican from New York, what we call a Nuyorican. Not only is she likely to experience discrimination, but she will also struggle to negotiate between her roots and her current home. Maintaining our culture while assimilating to another is something many Puerto Ricans struggle with as dual citizens of the U.S and the homeland. The fact that it takes Marisol visiting her homeland to discover her powers is an emblem of how powerful reconnecting with your roots can be and encourages us to do the same in a society that demands total assimilation in exchange for acceptance.
Although the fact that La Borinqueña exists matters in so many ways, it is important to acknowledge that mere representation is not enough and does not necessarily exemplify progress. We need representations to be three-dimensional and to avoid harmful stereotypes about minority identities and we need to hold those with the power to influence accountable.
This can only happen when we actively work towards giving diverse creators the opportunity and the space within the mainstream to create representations that are not only honest, but that depict the varying experiences of marginalized people. This is something i'm sure La Borinqueña would want us to keep in mind as we celebrate all she represents on June 12th at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. I for one can't wait to see what's in store for our heroine as she continues to inspire us to take compassionate action.