La Borinqueña | Source: La Borinqueña/the Pop Insider

Prepare to be obsessed with this fierce female hero! 

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriquez created La Borinqueña, an Afro-Puerto Rican superhero, back in 2016 to raise money for Puerto Rico amid an economic crisis. Since then, the brand has continued its intersection of comics and philanthropy. The superhero franchise is now being represented by FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management, paving the way for new projects and partnerships for this meaningful brand. The Pop Insider spoke to Miranda-Rodriquez about these endeavors and what fans can expect from the hero in the new year. 

The Pop Insider: Could you give an overview of the La Borinqueña brand and its recent projects?

Edgardo Miranda- Rodriquez: La Borinqueña is the first independently published, mainstream, AfroLatina character to have their own titular graphic novel series. In the first five years since its debut, we have published two graphic novels; a crossover anthology with DC Comics; and the first-ever combo package of a comic book, a vinyl music single, and a music video, ¡Que Bonita Bandera! Our debut graphic novel is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. We were awarded Eisner’s Humanitarian Award in 2018 for our philanthropic work which, in three years, has already awarded $165,000 in grants to nonprofits in Puerto Rico. We also produced a series of animated PSAs to encourage U.S. citizens to register and vote in the general election of November 2020 and the Georgia runoff elections, voiced by Rosario Dawson and Zoe Saldana

The Pop Insider: What has the La Borinqueña Grants Program already accomplished, and what plans do you have for the program in the future? How will licensing partnerships benefit this program?

EM: We are the only superhero graphic novel series that is directly connected to philanthropic work. Our graphic novels directly address social issues impacted by climate change. Since the inception of our La Borinqueña Grants program in 2018, we have dedicated a portion of our proceeds [to it]. Our grants support nonprofits in Puerto Rico dedicated to environmental justice, women’s health/reproductive rights, literacy, arts, sustainable farming, and the preservation of Afro Puerto Rican culture. These areas that we support reflect the values found in our superhero, La Borinqueña. In a new approach to corporate responsibility, we are looking for licensing partners that will want to invest in long-term, sustainable work. Licensing partnerships will also offer the option of offering tax-deductible donations to our philanthropic work that is dedicated to directly address racial equity. We are always exploring new opportunities that can give visibility to our character and our commitment to social justice. 

The Pop Insider: What kind of licensing partnerships is the brand open to or specifically seeking? What would be your dream licensing partnership for La Borinqueña?

EM: We would love to partner La Borinqueña with brands dedicated to fair trade, racial equity, and sustainable partnerships that can make significant impacts for change. Action figures made from and packaged with recycled materials that, in turn, are recyclable or compostable. We’d also love to work with legacy brands committed to making a change through products that elevate and educate their consumers.

The Pop Insider: Can you speak more about La Borinqueña (the hero), specifically her conception and her arc within the brand?

EM: La Borinqueña is Marisol Rios de la Luz, an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies. She lives in New York City but moves to Puerto Rico after studying abroad at the University of Puerto Rico. Her powers are drawn from the indigenous mysticism and mythology of the Taínos, original people from the Caribbean islands. Her superhuman abilities are gifted to her by the mother spirit Atabex and her twin sons — Yucahú, the spirit of the seas and mountains, and Huracán, the spirit of the storms. La Borinqueña’s powers are connected to nature via these spirits: superhuman strength; manipulation of the elements: earth, water, and air; and a mystical star that opens portals for teleportation and for viewing historical moments. When I created the character, I wanted her costume and powers to bring to light the history and heritage of Puerto Rico which has never been used in a mainstream superhero story or character. Connecting La Borinqueña to Puerto Rico, gives readers and fans a real place to connect to, a real place to visit, to experience.

‘La Borinqueña’ No. 1 Page 1 | Source: La Borinqueña

The Pop Insider: Why is a hero like La Borinqueña important for the Latinx community?

EM: The largest U.S. ethnic group is Latinx, with a growing population of more than 59 million. It’s projected that Latinx will have a $1.7 trillion dollar buying power. Latinx voters were decisive in the general election of 2020 and the Georgia runoff elections this year. Latinx consume and support mainstream products and content overwhelmingly that do not represent, nor speak directly to them or their experience. According to Pew Research Center, Latinx youth are the U.S.’s fastest-growing youth population and with a median age of 28, Latinx is the U.S.’s youngest major racial or ethnic group.

The Pop Insider: Could you speak more on the Que Bonita Bandera project and the experience of working with stars like Rosario Dawson for the music video? 

EM: I knew that 2020 would be the 125th anniversary of the Puerto Rican flag, and I wanted to do something bigger than just a comic book. For our third issue, which is still in production, I created a variant cover to commemorate the anniversary of the flag. … Then, the idea finally occurred to me. I should write a song! I should have Puerto Rican celebrities sing on it!

After Hurricane Maria in 2017, I produced the music video and cover artwork for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s benefit song “Almost Like Praying. I learned from that project what the power of bringing artists together could do. This is something that I’ve always been aware of since I was young, since I’m from the generation that grew up with Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” and Steven Van Zandt’s “Sun City.” These songs as an adolescent sparked my political consciousness, this is what made me woke. 

I did my research and learned that “Que Bonita Bandera” was a song that many sang in Puerto Rico for years, but it wasn’t until Florencio ‘Ramito’ Morales Ramos recorded the song in 1968 that it became an official song. His recording was released about 10 years after La Ley de la Mordaza was repealed, so Puerto Ricans knew and vividly recalled the persecution that nationalists faced because of our flag, and his original recording had a lyric where he addressed this when he sang “quisiera verla flotando sobre mi Borinquen bella.” 

Decades later, celebrations nationally across the world, many of us only grew up learning the chorus. The song lost all of its political impact over time and many people never knew of its origins as a protest song. I decided that this would be the song I wanted to recreate. I sat down with a sheet of paper and started writing new verses, keeping the original chorus. In this song, I would teach history and ground it in our resilience and love of our heritage.

‘La Borinqueña’ No. 1 Page 3 | Source: La Borinqueña

I knew that La Borinqueña would be the storytelling device that I could use to introduce readers to this history around Puerto Rico and our flag. I needed to produce a comic book that would visually be enticing and engaging. The lyrics of the song itself would be the outline I used to make the comic book. I had some archival photography for reference, but there were historic moments that were never documented visually. With my team of artists — Will Rosado, Chris Sotomayor, Gustavo Vazquez, and Juan Fernandez — I was able to art direct a story that could teach readers this history and validate the celebrations of Puerto Rican culture that have been around for decades in the U.S.

Now with the comic book done, [my friend] Bobbito [Garcia] added images right from the comic book into the music video. For the music video, I reached out to Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez and actors Rosario Dawson (The Mandalorian), Lauren Luna Velez (Into the Spider-Verse), Freddy Rodriguez (Bull), and Justina Machado (One Day At A Time), and Modesto Lacen (Netflix’s Celia Cruz). Bobbito got Oscar nominee Rosie Perez, Ramon Rodriguez  (The Wire, Transformers II), artist José Parlá, hip hop legends Crazy Legs and Tony Touch, former AND1 Mixtape star Tim “Headache” Gittens, and DJ Janzism de Puerto Rico.  

We decided that 100% of the net proceeds would go to our La Borinqueña Grants Program. … Now, we wait to see how the world receives it. Our hope is that this song and music video become this generation’s anthem. A song whose lyrics will be sung for years to come. I also want this history which most of us didn’t grow up learning, to be shared, embraced, and more importantly, used to empower us to truly take part in a social justice movement that addresses once and for all in our lifetime the decolonization of Puerto Rico.

The Pop Insider: What do you think makes Dawson a fit as the voice of La Borinqueña?

EM: Rosario Dawson is a passionate artist and activist. I met her in passing at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2016 when I was debuting La Borinqueña on a float. Later that year, I’d be introduced to her uncle Gustavo Vazquez, who is an accomplished comic book illustrator for both DC and Marvel. Gustavo illustrated a variant cover for our first issue, showed it to Rosario, and she fell in love with the character. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, she reached out to me directly because she wanted to help. She wrote an original story of La Borinqueña in our DC comic crossover benefit anthology, Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico, and she asked Frank Miller to draw the cover to her story, which he did, illustrating La Borinqueña alongside his renditions of Wonder Woman and Supergirl. She then asked me if I could help her find a La Borinqueña costume for Halloween, so we introduced her to LA stylist Nicki Schwan, who designed her a costume in 24 hours! 

Rosario has been actively involved in our philanthropic work by co-hosting a benefit art exhibition and a signing at New York Comic Con. Recently we invited her to collaborate with us to voice La Borinqueña for a series of animated public service announcements to engage voter turnout in the general election of November 2020 that we produced for Poder Latinx. After that successful campaign, she brought us to Voto Latino, which she co-founded in 2004, to produce another round of PSAs for the Georgia runoff elections. Rosario brought on Zoe Saldana to voice La Borinqueña in Spanish for these videos. She is an amazing actor and brings so much power and conviction into her performance as La Borinqueña.

The Pop Insider: What is next for La Borinqueña in the new year? Are there any new graphic novels or merch items that fans can look forward to?

EM: We’re in production of our third graphic novel, which will be released early this year. We also have other special La Borinqueña books we’ve been working on that we’ll be so excited to reveal this year, including a special team-up book!