The University community welcomed comic artist and writer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez on Thursday, Oct. 11 in Wilson Hall Auditorium to talk about the cultural significance of the Afro-Latina superhero he created, La Borinqueña.
Miranda-Rodriguez created the fictional character to bring the often-overlooked problems facing Puerto Rico to the forefront of popular media. According to him, interest in the character’s stories grew after the recent hurricane that affected residents of the commonwealth, and his stories have now become an avenue to raise awareness and funds for the affected Puerto Ricans using local community outreach programs, through his work to create a grant program that supplies funding for reconstruction efforts.
“[La Borinqueña] is a strong, independent college student born and raised in Brooklyn, who returns to the island to conduct research for her senior thesis,” explained Paul Humphrey, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of World Languages and Cultures, who also serves as a member of the Hispanic Heritage Month Planning Committee. “While there, she becomes a superhero, La Borinqueña, whose name is a reference to the indigenous Taíno name for the island, Borinquen or Boriken.”
For Miranda-Rodriguez, this project represents a personal way of giving back to the region of his ancestry. “Although Puerto Rico does not have its own autonomy politically, I strongly felt that, as a puertorriqueño (person of Puerto Rican origin), I had the autonomy…to decide how I wanted to help my people…That is how I continue to do this work (helping with reconstruction), and it started out with one little comic book character I created because I wanted to create a conversation.”
Miranda-Rodriguez discussed his experience visiting comic conventions showcasing his work and the effect the project had on readers. According to him, his comic book allowed the introduction of problems facing Puerto Rico to be discussed among mainstream comic book publishers, such as DC Comics, who eventually collaborated with him on an anthology project called Ricansruction that raised awareness of the situation in Puerto Rico.
“[Miranda-Rodriguez’s] creation of the first Afro-Latina female superhero has really resonated with lots of young people who are seeing in La Borinqueña a reflection of themselves for the first time,” said Alison Maginn, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Spanish, “He’s obviously been very successful as he has a huge following both here in the US and in Puerto Rico.” Maginn also pointed to his use of popular culture to gain the attention of young people and expressed appreciation to Miranda-Rodriguez’s efforts to meet with so many Monmouth students one-on-one after the event.
“In recent years, [Latinx] communities have been grossly misrepresented and scapegoated by politicians and the media alike,” said Humphrey. “For me, it was important to invite a speaker who was seeking to raise awareness of the specific issues of Puerto Rican identity on the island and in the diaspora, the circumstances of migration from Puerto Rico due to the economic and humanitarian crises exacerbated by the colonial politics the US has applied on the island.”
Humphrey detailed how Miranda-Rodriguez’s works featuring La Borinqueña, such as La Borinqueña #1 and #2 and Ricanstruction are used to teach some of his classes, which generated interest in the character on campus. Humphrey met the author a few times, and eventually invited Miranda-Rodriguez to campus.
“Representation is important because everyone brings something new and different to the table,” said Alexandria Afanador, a graduate criminal justice student. “To me, it means being able to become part of the bigger picture and an active member of the conversation regardless of the topic.”
“Student, faculty, and staff responses to Edgardo’s presentation and his work have been incredible. Latinx and African Caribbean students on campus have told me how excited they were to read a comic that had a superhero that looked like them, spoke like them and even ate similar foods to them,” said Humphrey. “Representation and recognition of the diversity of our campus community is of utmost importance, and this event brought together students and colleagues from across the University.”
PHOTO COURTESY of Paul Humphrey, Ph.D.