On Monday night, the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement hosted author Gabby Rivera as a part of their celebration of Latin American History Month and LGBTQ History Month.
Rivera spoke about her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx who wrote the first queer and Latin superhero for Marvel comics, America Chavez, in the comic book series titled “America.” She also described how refreshing it was that Marvel Studios approached her and not the other way around.
“I’m not here to chase after nothing, and nobody. I’m here to walk in my path,” Rivera said. “Walking in my path and telling my story brought Marvel Comics to me.”
The keynote event was part of the center’s All In, All Year initiative, and Rivera’s first time appearing at schools and universities in person since the pandemic began.
Sarah Piñón, the assistant director for Cross Cultural Engagement and Programming, introduced Rivera as “an outgoing, outspoken creator, invested in fostering better dialogue, inspiring, radical creativity and improving our most vulnerable communities.”
When thinking of America Chavez, Rivera largely drew on her own experiences, including her two grandmothers, sexuality and struggles she has faced due exclusively to the color of her skin.
“As brown and black people, there are a lot of times when we are not allowed to go from x to z, where there is a border, there is a set of papers, there is a guard, there is something telling us that you cannot pass,” Rivera said.
While Rivera said that she doesn’t like to give “cookies to allies,” she did give Marvel credit for acknowledging its societal voice and opening up avenues for narratives that are outside of “white guys.”
“I was like, they’re not going to relegate her to just like, trucking her out during like Latino History Month. She is going to be a legit superhero. And I’m going to put her in the footsteps of Captain America,” Rivera said.
America Chavez, or ‘Miss America,’ is set to make an appearance in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and will be played by Xochitl Gomez.
“(Marvel) realized they had to open up the playing field to tell greater stories, they realized they have to back up their characters like Black Panther, they have to create characters like America Chavez,” Rivera said.
Rivera also discussed how her writing career began through the publication of her first book, “Juliet Takes a Breath.” The story is rooted in the idea of wanting to see herself portrayed in the media and wanting Latin characters not to be confined to the stereotypes seen now.
“I’m like: Why are the TV Latina so different from the ones in my actual house, and how come even when I compare both of these things, there’s no me?” Rivera said.
While “Juliet Takes a Breathe” is not autobiographical, Rivera said that her only goal was to write for only herself. She described that despite the hardships she faced growing up, she loved herself too much to “be erased,” which is why she included aspects of Juliet she saw in herself, including being “nerdy.”
“I’m going to weave it all in, you are going to know you’re going to know all about us. And that’s what I did, right? And Juliet wasn’t written for anybody but me,” Rivera said.
The book was also recently turned into a graphic novel, and Rivera expressed how excited she was when she was contacted by Boom! Comics, which is the company known for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She said that she wanted to take the opportunity to put her own Puerto Rican history into the novel, including Juliet learning about the patriot Lorita Lebrón.
“The graphic novel that gets to come to life, right? You get to see it. You get to breathe it. You get to know that it’s good to understand and learn your history,” Rivera said.
Rivera said she has connected more deeply with the LGBTQ community as a way to preserve her mental health.
“There’s so many ways to be in community and it has opened up this whole other life and like way for us to talk and heal,” Rivera said, joking about how she’s gone from being drawn to a near-dangerous nightlife, to attending an LGBTQ banana bread-baking event.
Erin Geist, a criminal justice graduate student, was in attendance, and said that she enjoyed seeing Rivera’s intersectional approach to her presentation.
“[It’s] such a powerful thing to actually see as a person in the LGBTQ community — a Latina and also an artist,” Geist said. “Those are things that all at once are really hard to function with in society…Gabby’s an awesome example that can be used to empower other students.”