Finding Myself in Media: ‘Border Town’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Latinx representation isn’t great in any medium. Latinx communities account for 57.5 million people across the United States. That makes them the largest minority group in the country. However, Latinx characters only account for three percent of speaking roles in films in spite of their large contributions to movie ticket sales and overall the important histories that Latinx communities have contributed to the United States. From the Chicano Movement and Chicano cinema to the Nuyorican art, music, and identity of New York, Latinx communities shape the United States like all other groups. But In comics, stories of heroes and the strange rarely focus on the various cultures of Latin communities. Take a second and name three Latinx superheroes from comic books. Now, name one that isn’t America Chavez or Miles Morales.

Latinx talent has been behind the scenes for some time with the contributions of Alex Schomburg (born Alejandro Schomburg Chavez) in the 1940s, the work of  Joseph Quesada in the 1990s, Axel Alonso editing DC comic books from 1994 to 2000, and now Gabby RiveraNatacha Bustos and many more, Latin communities are writing and illustrating superhero stories for the big two (Marvel and DC). Even everyone’s favorite merc with a mouth was co-created by a Latino, Fabian Nicieza. However, the heroes that they’re working on are rarely Latinx and even when they are, they tend to go the way of representing a pan-Latin experience. Now, this isn’t bad, but it misses important nuances of what it means to be Latinx with connections to different cultures.

When Latinx characters pop up in comic books they’re almost always just described as Latin or Hispanic and nothing beyond that. The creators behind these heroes paint them with a pan-Latin brush that doesn’t differentiate the vibrant and varied cultures that fall into the category of Latinx. When I talk about Latinx characters in comics, it often involves a conversation in trying to find out what culture they’re in, since a Mexican-American experience is not the same as a Puerto Rican experience and so on and so forth. There are many national cultural heritages of Latinx communities in the United States.

While we’re making great strides in representation, a slip of the tongue can let us know that those who portray us, write us, or illustrate us think we’re all interchangeable – most recently the voice actor behind Miles Morales for Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse referred to the character as Mexican when he is, in fact, Puerto Rican. All in all, it’s easy to pass through geekdom and comic books feeling referenced but not seen, and with the relaunch and 25th anniversary of DC’s imprint Vertigo, that’s about to change.

I want to take a moment to say that there are great characters that exist in comics right now, who are also written by Latinx writers. But none of them, not even Robbie Reyes or Jessica Cruz have made me feel as seen as the announcement of Border Town did. Written by Eric M. Esquivel and illustrated Ramon Villalobos, a Mexican-American duo, the comic takes place in the fictional town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona and focuses on Frank Dominguez and other high schoolers who discover what’s happening to their town “when a crack in the border between worlds releases an army of monsters from Mexican folklore” and the residents of the town “blame the ensuing weirdness—the shared nightmares, the otherworldly radio transmissions, the mysterious goat mutilations—on ‘God-dang illegals.'” When it was announced, I was excited and I still am. A Mexican-American story, written by Mexican-Americans, and focussing on our cultural stories and our realities with monsters and folktales as the setting.

In the current climate of the United States, being unapologetic of your Mexican heritage is a political act. Yet, a comic showcasing Mexican folklore in the Southwest is less about politics and more about telling the stories of a culture, a people, and a mythology that has shaped that region of the country.  Contrary to what some vocal folks in the media will tell you, Mexican communities have been the life-blood of many cities in the United States especially in the South West, in states like Texas, California, and Arizona. There was no immigration involved. Parts of our communities were here before the land belonged to any country and our stories weave into the fabric of our states. So when the synopsis of the book explains that racial tensions in the town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona are supernaturally charged, my mind starts racing without how this book can tackle the existing media representation of us as well as combat the stereotypes around our lives.

If you haven’t guessed it, I’m Chicana – a word used to describe those of us who are US-born but with Mexican heritage. Born and raised in Texas, a grandchild of farmworkers,  shaped by Fiesta and Selena Quintanilla-Perez, with a family lineage that can be traced back to both what is now Northern Mexico and Eagle Pass’ Kickapoo community, the bane of my existence as a child were Mexican folk tales. Whether it was thinking my neighbor’s dog running in their yard was the chupacabra, known by farmers and ranchers throughout the South West, or having my abuela pretend to cry while I was hiding in the backyard at night, recreating La Llorona (the weeping woman) and instilling unimaginable levels of fear in me, this was my life. So when I saw the cover for Border Town and read the synopsis, I felt my heart grow two sizes bigger. This comic is made for me. The comic hasn’t come out yet and I’m already in love with it.

The fact that the Esquivel has used his own life experiences to build this story resonates with me. He’s explained that his Chicano identity has informed his writing and that is refreshing. What a lot of people don’t realize is that being a Mexican-American is hard. Being of two cultures and being pushed and pulled between them forms an identity that unique to both cultures. To quote Selena: 

So to see Chicanos writing an unapologetic Chicano story, and not shying away from racial tensions that we live through every day while telling our myths and tales to a whole new audience, I am beyond words. I have yet to read the first issue, but I do have it pre-ordered and if what I’ve seen from the comic’s writer on Twitter and read from friends who were able to get a free copy at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, I know it’s going to astound me and ultimately leave me in a situation where our current climate and cultural history merge to tell a story that reflects the identity of Mexican Americans living in the South West.

There have undoubtedly been detractors to the excitement for this comic, basing their attacks on the Mexican American identity of its writer and the content. To those people, I say this: Mexicans have always been in this country and in many cases, we have been here longer than your family. We are vital to the culture of this country and our existence should not have to be a political statement. Our stories deserve to be told and men like Esquivel and Villalobos will keep telling them and I will keep supporting them.