IVETTE FELICIANO: Author Gabby Rivera hasn’t always been a big comic book fan, but growing up in the South Bronx, she had her fair share of exposure to superheroes at home.
GABBY RIVERA: My parents were huge Marvel comic fans, and X-Men fans, and my brother too. And so through them, comics have had, like, some sort of place in my life.
IVETTE FELICIANO: So when Marvel Comics approached her about writing its newest series — “America” — her reaction was more than enthusiastic.
GABBY RIVERA: They approached me via email, and I totally screamed, and, like, ran around, like, “Oh my God, it’s Marvel.” And at first I thought it was like a scam email. Like, “Oh, like, I’m a Marvel prince and I have, like $100,000 for you,” or something like that. But it wasn’t. So they talked to me about this character, America Chavez.
IVETTE FELICIANO: “America Chavez” is a gay Latina superhero, raised by two mothers who sacrifice themselves saving her homeworld. Rivera’s storyline has Chavez attending college and learning to use her powers — which include superhuman strength and the ability to travel through time and between dimensions.
GABBY RIVERA: A Latina that can just go where she chooses is, like, pretty revolutionary, I think. She has, like, ownership of her own body and her destination, and that’s like a gift that not many of us are afforded.
IVETTE FELICIANO: As a self-described queer woman of Puerto Rican descent, Rivera sees a lot of herself in America Chavez.
IVETTE FELICIANO: We have this queer, Latina superhero character, but there’s also a queer Latina writing this story. Is there something significant about having the person producing this also represent this experience?
GABBY RIVERA: Yes, 100 percent, hands down. It’s important that, like, I inhabit the identities I do, queer, brown, like, nerd burger, you know what I mean? Like and I get to write America, and so there’s this authenticity in the voice.
IVETTE FELICIANO: Rivera says she’s been writing stories since her mother taught her to read and write as a child, and America Chavez isn’t the first queer latina character she’s written.
She’s also the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novel, “Juliet Takes a Breath,” about a young Puerto Rican lesbian from the bronx trying to answer questions about her sexual identity, gender, and family background.
IVETTE FELICIANO: How does that sort of writing inform your writing for this project?
GABBY RIVERA: I think that irreverent nature of also young adult fiction, and the, like, absolute capacity for anything to happen in, like, the comic book world work really well together. And it’s so much fun. The voice of Juliet is fresh and curious. She’s just, like, this young, free-spirited again, like, Latina from the Bronx, right? So when I’m writing America, there is that energy in there. That, like, spirit of one-liners, and being tough, and a little irreverent and spontaneous. And so they work really well together.
IVETTE FELICIANO: For Rivera, the implications of a gay person-of-color as a superhero go beyond a single character. She hopes Americans will embrace a broader range of people in comics and pop culture.
GABBY RIVERA: Who doesn’t connect to the principles of, like, Superman or the loyalty of a group like the X-Men? And, I think, now is the time where people are even more vocally saying, “Hey, but it can go a step further, and there’s room for more stories, and there’s room for more identities.” If you can have folks that are, like, giant blue beasts and, like, you know, mutants, then there’s room for a story about a little, like, Latina lesbian punching through other dimensions, you know.