Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez is a humble guy. He was taken by surprise last week when the media was all over after him after his latest project became public. His creation, La Borinqueña, a Nuyorican woman from Los Sures in Brooklyn, is a full-figured, short trigueña, with superpowers endowed by the Taino Indians, the natives that Christopher Columbus found when he landed on La Isla del Encanto in the 15th century.
Miranda-Rodriguez, 45, has teamed up with the Puerto Rican Day Parade to launch a new comic book character, a symbol that he hopes will rally Puerto Ricans across the diaspora to unite and mobilize to ultimately demand that Washington D.C. do something about the $72 billion dollar debt that is crippling Puerto Rico and contributing to yet another exodus of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland.
He is not only son to the woman who raised him, and brother Axel and sister Marisol, by herself, he is also son to the island of his roots — the island whose children can claim an ancestral mix of white, black, and Native American heritage. He is son to an island that is, at the moment, suffering an unpayable debt wrought by a perfect storm of globalized capitalism, questionable and inconsistent laws from the U.S. government, a lack of sovereignty, and mismanagement.
“I can’t be a good son and let my mother suffer," Miranda-Rodriguez says. La Borinqueña will tell that story, and more.
“There’s so much more happening in Puerto Rico,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “I don’t want people to think, ‘The debt crisis is solved, and Puerto Rico is chill.’”
The 30-40 page premier of La Borinqueña will also touch on challenges like disappearing coastlines and pharmaceutical pollution resulting from environmental racism. While a living, breathing La Borinqueña is expected to make a special appearance at this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, her literary debut is scheduled for October 5.
On December 17th and 18th, Miranda-Rodriguez will present the comic book character at Puerto Rico’s Aguada Con Comic Fest. He says he feels “incredibly honored” by how positively the public has received La Borinqueña. Some are even pitching their own ideas, not realizing Miranda-Rodriguez only broke into the comic book industry two years ago. Besides running his own studios, Studio Edgardo and Somos Arte, he writes for Marvel and is the editor-in-chief of DMC, founded by Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels. Miranda-Rodriguez’s life has been a challenge, but he found solace in art early on.Miranda-Rodriguez grew up poor. He still can’t afford to go to Puerto Rico more than once a year. His sister and he were raised by their single mother, and economic uncertainty meant they had to move around a lot.
But that moving around in New York City, among historically Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the capital of the Puerto Rican diaspora, allowed Miranda-Rodriguez to get a taste of Nuyorican life in the South Bronx, El Barrio, and the Lower East Side.
Before La Borinqueña, he produced Guardians of the Lower East Side, which will be on exhibit at the this year’s upcoming Loisaida Festival. Miranda-Rodriguez now calls Los Sures home. When he was a kid moving around New York City, comic books helped keep him out of trouble.
“I just kind of stayed home, avoided a lot of the nonsense on the street,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “I drew and wrote comic books most of the time. I guess I nurtured my imagination and creativity, and did the best that I could to survive.”
He eventually became an activist, working with organizations like the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and El Puente in Williamsburg. Both groups can trace their founding back to the ideals of the Young Lords, a movement for social justice and Puerto Rican nationalism. Miranda-Rodriguez never forgot those goals.
In 2014, he honored the Young Lords in a short video he produced about the political organization’s 1969 Garbage Offensive, an organized, united effort to demand adequate sanitation services for East Harlem residents.
Melding his activist past with his artistic talent is becoming Miranda-Rodriguez’s modus operandi. He hopes that La Borinqueña will unite Puerto Ricans everywhere to demand justice for their island. He recalls one of his favorite phrases from his activist days: "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!"
Debt crises aren’t exactly easy to understand. La Borinqueña will, Miranda-Rodriguez says, make the content accessible to a greater audience.
“Messages from economists and politicians can be pretty difficult to decipher,” he says. “Comic books were originally created for the poorer folks, the working class — like myself.”
Why a woman? Because of women like Sonia Sotomayor, Antonia Pantoja, Lolita Lebrón, and Julia de Burgos.
Speaking of his 12-year-old son Kian, Miranda-Rodriguez says, “He doesn’t shy away from her because she’s a woman. He still sees himself. He sees his heritage, he sees his pride.”
Miranda-Rodriguez says his favorite poem is de Burgos’ “Ay Ay Ay de la Grifa Negra,” a defiant assertion of pride in blackness. The poem begins:
Ay ay ay, I’m kinky-haired and pure black;
proud my hair is kinky, proud of my fierce lips
and flat Mozambican nose.
Miranda-Rodriguez sees those Puerto Rican women leaders in La Borinqueña. In her, he also sees the women in his life. The character’s alter-ego was actually named after Miranda-Rodriguez’s sister, Marisol. The character herself is named after Puerto Rico’s national anthem.
There are two versions, Miranda-Rodriguez says: one in which Columbus calls the island “la hija del mar y el sol,” and the other, revolutionary version: “Nosotros queremos la libertad. Nuestros machetes nos la darán.”
The island changed from Spanish to U.S. hands with U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Puerto Rico has never seen full autonomy. For now, though, Miranda-Rodriguez is focusing on the debt crisis and how mainland Puerto Ricans can help.
“What Puerto Ricans in the diaspora need to do is gather together and say, ‘You know what? Let’s march on Washington if we have to,'” says Miranda-Rodriguez.
Miranda-Rodriguez is hoping that, with the Puerto Rican Day Parade, he can use La Borinqueña to raise funds for education.
“We’re not going to raise money to cover this debt crisis. That’s impossible. I’m not putting money into the hands of these hedge funds,” he says. “We’re going to raise funds for these young people so that they can have scholarship funds. Young people can actually have something they can say came from us, is for us, and is dedicated to us.”
On June 12, at this year’s 59th Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, Miranda-Rodriguez will take advantage of having the eyes and ears of the Puerto Rican diaspora on him and La Borinqueña. He will take his message about the debt crisis to revelers and observers.
“People often think that it’s their problem on the island,” he says. “It’s our island, it’s our heritage, and it’s our responsibility. If we wave our flag with pride we need to raise our fists and mobilize.”