Comic books often tell extraordinary stories about larger than life superheroes. But when fans asked Mexican-American comic book creator Héctor Rodríguez to put out a special issue during the pandemic, he knew immediately the story he wanted to tell—the story of thousands of invisible workers.
“Comic books are a great way to help people connect,” Rodríguez told NBC News. “But very few stories focus on the people who are feeding us."
Rodríguez is the creator of “El Peso Hero,” a cross-border superhero who has become a champion of Mexican heritage and Latino immigrants.
"El Peso Hero" first gained mainstream fame after the Mexican-American superhero delivered a mighty punch, or “trumpazo” to then presidential candidate Donald Trump on a 2015 cover. The issue was in response to Trump's presidential campaign announcement, where he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.
This special pandemic issue, which is released online for free on Monday, shows “El Peso Hero” taking a backseat to a nurse and other essential workers facing tough day-to-day challenges against COVID-19.
“This is definitely a contrast from "El Peso Hero" fighting corruption, drug cartels, and racism on the [U.S.-Mexico] border,” Rodríguez said. “Fans will see him in a supporting role to real-life heroes, helping a nurse bring medical masks to agricultural workers, and deliver a much needed message of solidarity and positivity to a community that is often marginalized in the shadows."
Rodríguez said that "many undocumented Latinos are the glue that holds America together."
Rodríguez created the comic book to showcase a hero from his community who confronts racism and injustice—such as the 2019 El Paso shooting—the largest mass shooting against Latinos in the nation's modern history, whose victims were targeted by a man who told authorities he was targeting "Mexicans."
He has also called attention to national stories such as the detention of migrant children in ICE facilities.
"Vital" to society
Millions of Latino workers, including many who are undocumented, are working as essential workers in farms, meatpacking plants, grocery stores and other jobs while much of the country is shut down for quarantine.
“Many of these people are like the families of my students,” said the Texas-based comic book creator, who is also a fifth-grade teacher. “Historically they are marginalized as outsiders and live in constant fear of deportation. But now the pandemic is showing how vital they really are to society.”
The U.S. government calculates that roughly half of all crop farmworkers—1.18 million in 2019—are undocumented. A recent article from The New York Times reports that growers and labor contractors think it could be closer to 75 percent.
Looking back on his family’s history, Rodríguez says that he feels closely connected with many of those invisible agricultural workers today. He told NBC News that his paternal grandfather was part of the Bracero Program—a temporary worker agreement that authorized millions of Mexicans to work in U.S. farms between 1942 and 1964.
“My grandpa migrated from Mexico to Montana in the 1940s,” Rodriguez said. “He described farming as a lonely experience, especially because he was separated from his family. And I want to show how farmworkers connect all of us today.”
The creator of “El Peso Hero” hopes that his comic can inspire Americans to reimagine themselves in the stories of millions of invisible workers who serve their communities.
“As a small comic book creator, I can pivot fast to tell the stories of my community,” he said. “And now with COVID, we need to look inside, re-evaluate what’s essential, and share the stories of those who are working hard to keep us together.”