Since Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez introduced La Borinqueña – a Puerto Rican superhero – back in May, she’s become the most buzzed about part of the new comic book. At New York Comic Con earlier this month, a woman even cosplayed as La Borinqueña, aka Marisol Ríos De La Luz – a New-York born student enrolled in Columbia University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences program. It makes perfect sense that people feel excited about La Borinqueña – she’s a non-stereotypical Afro-Boricua character who gives people the opportunity to see themselves reflected positively on the pages of a comic book.
The first issue is all about Marisol and how her life changes when she becomes a superhero with super strength and the ability to control the weather. Because La Borinqueña’s origin story takes up so much of the debut issue, it’s possible that you may not notice her best friend, Lauren “La La” Liu, a Chinese-Dominican woman who’s only briefly introduced.
— Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez La Borinqueña (@MrEdgardoNYC) October 18, 2016
But creator Miranda-Rodriguez didn’t want La La to just blend into the background, so when the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center invited him to its pop-up show, it pushed him to develop the character. At that point, the center didn’t even know about La La, so when he first got the invitation, he admits feeling a little confused. “My immediate response was, I’m not Asian,” he told me. But he learned the group invited him because of his work in the comic book medium and because he highlights the issues affecting Puerto Rico.
At the November pop-up show – Ctrl + Alt: A Culture Lab on Imagined Futures – Edgardo will have the opportunity to show who La La is for the first time. For the two-day event, the story he created will become an exhibition, complete with full-color blown ups and a little bit of animation. But before fleshing out the character, he turned to his family for help. His wife is Korean-American from New Jersey, and Miranda-Rodriguez has a Korikua (Korean-Boricua) son. But he also has a China-Latina goddaughter, Raisa Lin Garden-Lucerna, who largely inspired La La. The Chinese-born student’s parents are El Puente founders Frances Lucerna (who is Filipina and Puerto Rican) and Luis Garden (who is Puerto Rican and Dominican).
Edgardo says that at only five-feet tall, Raisa is small but tough. One day someone swiped her cell phone, and Raisa chased the man and retrieved her phone. “Nothing happened to her,” he said. “He was completely overwhelmed by her balls.” So it’s fitting that he’d want to model his character on a strong young woman.
“We’re so hungry to see ourselves because we’re so invisible as people of color.”
His wife and goddaughter helped come up with La La’s whole aesthetic. They suggested things like the stars tattooed on her neck to her short turquoise hair. Illustrator Emilio Lopéz brought the character to life. But the character is the result of a lot of work. Because La Borinqueña doesn’t simply take place in Puerto Rico, Miranda-Rodriguez wanted an Asian-Latina character who repped another Latin American country. He began looking into Cuba and the Dominican Republic, because of their large Asian populations. After learning more about DR’s Chinatown and because Puerto Ricans and Dominicans live “side by side” in New York, he decided to make La La Chinese-Dominican. Chinese-Dominican writer Carmen Rita Wong further helped Edgardo build an authentic character.
Up to this point, Edgardo has only shown a small peek into La La, but people have already reacted so positively to her. During Hispanic Heritage Month, he spoke at Colgate University, his alma mater. After talking about his career, many Asian Latinos came up to talk to him. He gave them a small look into La La, and they loved her because they could relate to her. “She’s not even a superhero,” he said. “She’s just a character. We’re so hungry to see ourselves because we’re so invisible as people of color.”
Edgardo originally created La Borinqueña in collaboration with his studio, Somos Arte, and the Puerto Rican Day Parade. The first issue goes on sale on December 22, and La La’s story will be included as a bonus story.
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and La La will be at CTRL + ALT: A Culture Lab on November 12 and 13. Learn more about the event here.