She's a Dominican Chinese college student who identifies as LGBTQ — and ends up transforming into a superhero to help her friend and fellow Latina superhero, La Borinqueña.
Meet La La Liu, a Latin Asian character who harnesses her superpowers for good in the just-released third issue of the comic book series "La Borinqueña," written and published by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez with art by Will Rosado and Christopher Sotomayor.
The graphic novel continues the story of “La Borinqueña,” the environmentally conscious female superhero whose extraordinary powers — derived from the Indigenous Taíno gods of her Puerto Rican ancestors — include flying, superhuman strength and teleportation. La La, who transforms into superhero Lúz, has powers that light up her eyes and hands.
Latinos of Asian heritage, the author and artist Miranda-Rodríguez tells NBC News, are “part of our people,” a message he wanted to convey when he created Lúz, saying he saw it as a chance to spotlight underrepresented Latino communities.
The Chinese community in the Dominican Republic, he said, has become one of the largest in Latin America. Its Chinatown, known as Barrio Chino, is located in the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo.
When creating La La, Miranda-Rodríguez said, he was really conscious about the character's powers, especially as an LGBTQ Latina.
“Oftentimes, when you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, you live in darkness — in your own family, in your own mind, in your own heart — before you have the comfortable space to come out,” the graphic novelist said, referencing crimes against the LGBTQ community, particularly in Latin America.
“What I wanted to do with La La is literally make her a bright light — a representation of luminous love,” he said. “She is a reflection of her best friend but she’s also going to go on to become her own hero in her own way.”
Miranda-Rodríguez, whose mission has been to create dynamic characters that reinforce their Caribbean and Indigenous ancestry, first created the series in 2016. The comic book tells the story of Marisol Rios De La Luz, a native New Yorker and Puerto Rican college student whose powers appear after exploring Puerto Rico’s caves one summer. As she comes to understand the strength of her own powers as La Borinqueña — ones that come from ancestral Taíno gods — the comic books examine the political and environmental issues that have plagued Puerto Rico.
Marisol, aka La Borinqueña, goes through growth and transformation herself in the third issue. The superhero, whose costume includes the colors of the Puerto Rican flag and has been displayed at the Smithsonian, undergoes a spiritual journey led by Opiyelguobiran, the Taíno soul dog, to learn not only how to truly harness her power,s but also how to build a confidence in herself.
That all comes into fruition when she’s fighting a villain, flying high above a laboratory located in the southeastern Puerto Rican town of Juncos, warning him of her strength.
"I'm not going to hurt you, but I'm not defenseless either," she tells him. "Don't confuse my talk about love as a weakness. It's where we can all draw power from."
In the third issue, the New York-based Puerto Rican author continues to focus on social change, specifically student activism. His second edition, which ended with a large student-led protest against school budget cuts, was released in June 2018 — a year before the island would change three governors in the course of a week after historic protests led to then-Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation. The third edition continues those student-led protests, this time against a biotech company holding students hostage.
"I've always recognized the power that young people have, and continue to have, leading social justice movements internationally," he said. "From Mexico to China, it's always young people who are leading revolutions and I wanted to reflect that in the book."
The author, who believes art can inspire social issues, is proud of the impact of the series. He finds it surreal to see stars like actor Rosario Dawson lending her voice as Marisol for animated public service announcements, such as encouraging Latinos to vote in Georgia's 2021 runoff election.
Miranda-Rodríguez said he would be interested in a television show or film based on “La Borinqueña,” so long as the right studio values the importance of his superhero's role. The graphic novelist has used his art to raise funds for Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria; he published the best-selling anthology “Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico,” which featured La Borinqueña and other DC Comics superheroes.
He and his wife, Kyung Jeon-Miranda, created the La Borinqueña Grants Program, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Puerto Rican nonprofit groups, and he is a co-founder of Masks for America, which has donated 850,000 masks and personal protective equipment to hundreds of communities across the U.S. and territories like Puerto Rico.
His latest comic book is a family effort. The Nitaínos are superheroes introduced toward the end of the series. It was his youngest son, he said, who created the superhero design for Oro, the member with yellow spikes coming out of his helmet, and his older son came up with the idea for Iguaca, who's based on a native Puerto Rican parrot.
Miranda-Rodríguez, who's also the owner of the creative services studio Somos Arte, said what's going on around him influenced his latest comic's ending.
"I decided, given the world we’re living through with this pandemic, the last thing I want to do is put out a book that has a very dark ending," he said. "I wanted it to be uplifting."