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A Mexican Chinese superhero brings a forgotten part of history alive

A new issue of the comic book “El Peso Hero” features a superhero whose family history is tied to the racist 1911 Torreón massacre against Chinese and Japanese Mexicans.
Images from the "Comandante Chong" issue of the Mexican American comic book, "El Peso Hero."
Images from the "Comandante Chong" issue of the Mexican American comic book, "El Peso Hero."Comic book art by Chema / Rio Bravo Comics

A new issue of the Mexican American “El Peso Hero” comic book tells a story about Mexico that very few readers know about.

“There is a long history of Chinese immigration to Mexico,” said the comic book’s creator, artist and educator Héctor Rodríguez, in an interview with NBC News about “El Comandante Chong,” a new issue released Monday.

“But there is also a history of anti-Chinese movements, including deportations, expulsions and genocide. And this history has been forgotten or purposely put away.”

Dressed in a modest white shirt and blue jeans, the cross-border hero El Peso Hero is a champion of Latinos and Mexican Americans, particularly immigrants. He takes on drug cartels, human traffickers and corrupt agents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

But in the new three-part story arc, “El Peso Hero Sicario War,” El Peso Hero takes a back seat to feature Enrique Chong, a Chinese Mexican special forces commander in the northern state of Coahuila, who Rodríguez compares with the master archer Hawkeye from Marvel comics.

The issue tells the story of the 1911 Torreón massacre, in which revolutionary Mexican forces murdered more than 300 Cantonese Mexicans and Japanese Mexicans.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador apologized in 2021 for the 1911 massacre, and denounced other racial killings from that period, in which Asians were mutilated or hung from telegraph poles.

Chong is a descendant of one of those Cantonese families. He teams up with El Peso Hero in the first of a three-part story arc called “El Peso Hero Sicario War.” And Rodríguez says that this issue resonates with the core themes of the cross-border comic.

“This story really puts an eye on what it truly means to be Mexican. And it is told through the pride and perseverance of a Chinese Mexican officer,” he said.

A New York Times article about the massacre dated from May 21, 1911, reported the murder of J. W. Lim. The prominent Chinese Mexican banker was dragged around the town square in Torreón “at the end of a rope which had been tied around his neck.”

The article was largely based on the testimonies of an American locomotive engineer and a conductor who escaped from the three-day attack led by Mexican revolutionaries. And according to these testimonies, the newspaper reported that Lim was “shot and killed” after his body had been “badly crushed.”

Statements from the railroad men say that 17 Chinese were murdered after firing on revolutionaries who approached their work area. Their statements also said that the Chinese hotel and railroad station were burnt, in addition to other buildings.

Chinese workers migrated to Mexico in the 1800s. Many helped to build out Mexico’s railroad system. Others established businesses and farms, and Lim founded a bank in Torreón.

The Mexican revolutionaries’ victory over Torreón, which is the seat of the state of Coahuila, forced Mexican general and seven-term president Porfirio Díaz to resign and take exile a few days later.

“Chong is a completely original character trying to overcome the historic pain of a family trauma,” Rodríguez said. “He is someone who hasn’t wavered in morality. And this gives people hope.”

Rodríguez says that El Peso Hero draws from these historic facts, in addition to the experiences of his family living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The idea for Chong’s character came from stories that were passed down through his father’s family about Chinese Mexicans getting harassed and killed by revolutionaries.

The comic book creator is a fifth grade teacher in McKinney, Texas. He grew up in the Texan border town of Eagle Pass and also has family in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras, which is located in Coahuila.

Rodríguez remembers growing up with Asian stores and restaurants on both sides of the border. But a Japanese Mexican teacher made the most direct impression on him about the Chinese massacre.

“I had a substitute Spanish teacher who was from Eagle Pass, and she was Japanese Mexican,” he said. “Her family had emigrated from Japan to Northern Mexico and was later displaced by the violence. A lot of Japanese families were also victims because they were grouped together as targets with the Cantonese.”

These experiences inspired Rodríguez to tell a story about a character that was proud to be Asian Mexican. 

Rodríguez’s comic book “El Peso Hero” first gained mainstream fame after the superhero delivered a punch, or “trumpazo,” to presidential candidate Donald Trump on a 2015 cover in response to his campaign announcement in which he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.

But the comic book also pays tribute to real-life heroes. In 2020, Rodríguez published a special issue that put the spotlight on nurses and other essential workers in the frontlines against COVID-19.

More recently, when López Obrador defended his country’s non-interventionist policy against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rodríguez took action and put his Mexican American superhero in a new comic book issue set in Ukraine.

In this latest issue featuring a Mexican Asian superhero, Rodriguez said “it’s a short story, but it has a big significance because it taps into the heart of El Peso Hero.”

“And that heart is about persevering day-to-day, striving to be bigger than what you are,” Rodriguez said, “especially when you have to face a family tragedy.”

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