“El Peso Hero” Stars Latino Superhero, Fighting for Justice on U.S./Mexico Border08 May 2019
The debate over immigration that has periodically dominated headlines under the Trump Administration has created a particularly divisive discourse. Immigrants who cross over to our shores are either hardworking job seekers deserving of compassion, or menacing criminals who must be halted before they destroy our communities. Some politicians lament that our borders are dangerously under secured and must be fortified with a wall, while others advocate for a complete opening of our border network. Our immigration system as a whole is maligned as too lax by some pundits and, by others, as well overdue for complete reform that would eliminate legal penalties for immigrants who are unauthorized. Meanwhile, an underclass of immigrants is caught in the middle of the heated national conversation that rarely allows for nuance.
But one comic book author has created a unique character who embodies the complexity of the immigrant experience, and he’s hoping his work will teach mainstream America to view immigrants as individuals instead of statistics.
El Peso Hero is a comic book series created by Hector Gonzalez Rodriguez, who witnessed the human drama of immigration firsthand growing up in the small border town of Eagle Pass, Texas. The titular character of his series is a young man who obtains the powers of super strength and unbreakable skin, and uses them to protect people on both sides of the U.S. / Mexico border. Throughout the nine books published in the series so far, El Peso Hero defeats drug cartels, foils human traffickers, and defends the innocent against corrupt border officials. And he does so while speaking only Spanish and wearing clothes that reflect Norteno culture of Northern Mexico. It is clear that even though our hero fights for a variety of noble causes, he always stays true to himself and his culture.
El Peso Hero’s specific Latino identity was a conscious decision, Rodriguez explains in a recent essay penned for Public Radio International (PRI). While he was introduced to popular American comic book characters like Batman and Superman at a young age, he recalls, “I wasn’t really interested in following their exploits. Culturally, they didn’t connect with me.” Instead, he was inspired by Mexican telenovelas that more accurately reflected his own experience as a Latino. After taking art classes throughout high school and college, Rodriguez got the idea for El Peso Hero after he heard a rumor about a group of Mexican criminal renegades wreaking havoc along the border. He then “began to imagine a local superhero of Mexican descent fighting the group,” and his hero was born.
El Peso Hero was an instant hit when the first issue was published in 2011, selling over 5,000 copies in its first year. While Rodriguez was pleased with the success, he was also surprised by some of his unlikely fans, including English-speaking readers with a wide range of political viewpoints. Some of his most ardent supporters include “[U.S.] border patrol agents who have voiced their support for El Peso Hero at comic book conventions and shared their own related stories.” Given that Rodriguez still works his day job as an elementary bilingual teacher in Texas, he hopes to inspire a new generation of diverse comic book authors, noting, “nearly 60 percent of students in Texas are Latino … for them, it’s empowering to see someone with a last name like theirs making comic books with a superhero that speaks Spanish.”
El Peso Hero’s latest adventures have mirrored some of the more distressing immigration headlines in the news. In the ninth and most recent book, he must help a group of refugees go through the registration process after they are placed in custody at a U.S. detention facility. Rodriguez acknowledges that the heavy subject matter is “an impossible situation” – both for his title character and the real-life immigrants who are impacted every day by the ongoing immigration battle. But he is adamant that El Peso Hero can create a teachable moment by reminding readers that immigrants are human beings, not political talking points. After all, he says, “…take away all the layers – male, Latino, Mexican, Spanish-speaking, Norteno – and deep down inside it’s a very human story. El Peso Hero is universal.” [See El Peso Hero Protects Both Sides of the Border – from a Comic Book Panel, by Hector Gonzalez Rodriquez, PRI, 04, Apr.2019.]
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