Last week, news broke that Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter – who immigrated from Israel to the United States after serving in the 1967 Six Day War – donated $1 million to the campaign of the xenophobic, vitriolic Donald Trump. Since then, he’s been lambasted for his contribution, according to Variety. But despite the fact that Perlmutter has thrown his support behind a man intent on bringing down the Latino community, Marvel Comics continues to slowly but surely move in the right direction – diversifying its characters and storylines to better represent the makeup of the U.S.
Since 2000, Marvel Comics has been headed by Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, whose father is Mexican. Under his purview, Marvel introduced Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales in 2011. And this week, Marvel Comics is releasing an issue that looks to the Taíno culture of Puerto Rico. The artist behind the issue is Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, who worked to push his Puerto Rican culture to the forefront, just as he’s done in the past.
“So many stories are told that do not authentically represent us Latinos,” he said. That’s why when the Darryl Makes Comics Editor-in-chief was tapped to work on his first issue for Marvel Comics, he saw an opportunity to connect it to his roots. The end result, co-created with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels (of Run DMC), is Guardians of Infinity #3, an issue that imagines a conflict between characters Thing, a.k.a Benjamin Grimm, and Groot.
While McDaniels infused Thing with his own personality, Miranda-Rodriguez studied the alien, tree-like Groot and found similarities between the character and the ceiba trees from his Puerto Rican childhood. “As an adolescent, I lived [in Puerto Rico],” he told Remezcla. “The town is named after the ceiba tree. In the center of the island is the Parque de la Ceiba in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where a 500-year-old ceiba tree grows to this day… The ceiba tree holds cultural significance throughout Latin America, West Africa and Southeast Asia.”
As he developed the story with his editor Nick Lowe, Miranda-Rodriguez took Groot and Thing to Loisaida – an area that has been shaped by Puerto Ricans in multiple ways, including through the community gardens that gentrification can’t easily penetrate and erase. And he made sure to give Groot a more explicit link to the island through the character of Abuela Estela.
“They were a spiritual people, very much in tune with nature, la naturaleza.”
The issue may focus on the discord between Groot and Thing, but Abuela Estela, who owns a Casa Adela-type restaurant – is the story’s MVP. Through her, Edgardo highlights the diversity of the Latino community, even within one family. He dreamt up Estela as an Afro-Latina with a “blanquito grandson” named Kian.
And just like any other abuelita, she has wisdom to share. When her grandson Kian is dismissive of the suggestion that Groot could from the ceiba tree, Estela teaches him that Taínos live on through these trees.
“Many of our Taino ancestors died when Puerto Rico was colonized,” she told him. “They were a spiritual people, very much in tune with nature, la naturaleza. Although their bodies were destroyed, their spirits lived on. The ceiba tree in my hometown of Ponce is over 500 years old.”
This is how, in the end, Manhattan is saved by an abuelita. Estela approaches Groot and gets him to snap out of his trance by reminding him where he comes from. At that point, Groot responds “Yo soy Groot.” Edgardo said the story wouldn’t have fully realized his vision without Groot speaking in Spanish. As a member of the Flora colossi race, Groot’s stiff larynx makes all of his speech sound as though he is saying “I am Groot.” Marvel gave Edgardo permission to slightly change Groot’s catchphrase.
“That was so important in this story,” he said. “When they approved it, I couldn’t stop saying ‘Yo Soy Groot!’ to my wife and sons at home. Now, when I hear Vin Diesel recite it, I feel like he’s saying it in our comic book.” For the movie version of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vin Diesel voiced his lines in several different languages, including Spanish.
It may be incorrect to refer to Groot as a Latino character, but for Edgardo, this story was about showing how Latinos can fit into the mainstream. And though he’s hoping this will lead to more Latino culture being represented, at the very least Abuela Estela is now canon.
Guardians of Infinity #3 is out February 3. It was written by Darryl McDaniels and Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. And it was illustrated by Nelson Faro DeCastro, and colored by Christopher Sotomayor.