Create the World You Want (Through Empowerment and Joy)

On Monday, September 24, Vanderbilt University had the pleasure of hearing author Gabby Rivera’s talk on empowerment in a world of obstacles. Rivera is the author of Juliet Takes a Breath, a romance novel centered around a 19 year old queer Latina as she navigates feminism, queer person-of-color spaces, and, as Rivera puts it, “makes out with one very special motorcycle-riding librarian.” Rivera also turns her imagination into reality as the author of Marvel’s first Latina lesbian superhero America Chavez.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Gabby Rivera’s talk on empowerment is her focus on joy. She believes writing is about finding joy, fueling oneself with it, and building it into a narrative. This is why Rivera sees queerness and her Latinx identity as miracles the universe has bestowed upon her. “Maybe this world is not for you,” Rivera states, “but within you is where you can create the world that you want.”

Rivera is creating the world she wants through the construction of America Chavez’s life. As Marvel’s first Latina lesbian character, America navigates her superhero life in outer space, a place where imagination can thrive without the many institutionalized rules here. “America can literally punch through portals; she is ‘sin papeles’ [without papers],” notes Rivera.

There are no boundaries in reimagining America, who was originally a character created by two white men. With her creative freedom, Rivera eludes to just how impactful dreams and joy are. She fosters a sense of “anything is possible,” even in America’s birth. “Imagine if two people loved each other so much that the intergalactic forces allowed them to make a baby. Well, they did. And that’s why America has two moms,” said Rivera.

As a precedent-setter, Gabby Rivera understands the influence she has on this world. This is why she emphasizes her mission of putting her heroes in her work, uplifting their legacies and making “mainstream” audiences adapt to her instead of her adapting to them. In doing so, Rivera includes heroes such as Sonia Sotomayor instead of the “white men who have enslaved and oppressed others and who the United States still turns into monuments.” They are not her heroes. Instead, in reimagining the world she monumentalizes her own heroes. By placing current heroes in her comics, Rivera is also able to direct her audience of marginalized individuals towards other heroes to draw inspiration from. If her audience did not know about Sotomayor before, they do now.

In a generation of mass media, extreme conformity and way too much outside noise from way too many people, two of Rivera’s points stood out for me. It is pertinent that everyone, especially adolescents like us who are navigating social scenes and finding our identities, need to hear. Read them, think about them, live by them.

“It is our duty to say ‘Hey, they might be telling you that you’re a ‘special snowflake’ in a bad way, mocking you. But you have the right to investigate who you are. If no one else is telling you that then hopefully America Chavez is.”

  • Gabby Rivera

“Doing the work means taking inventory, stare every decision you’ve made in the face and own each one. You are powerful enough to evolve. That’s where the magic is, and that’s where you find your light.”

  • America Chavez in AMERICA Issue #1