Screenshot from a clip from 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.' Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager with an afro and wearing his school uniform of a white buttondown with a tie and a blue blazer as he holds his backpack on this lap, sits between his mother, an Afro-Latina with long, curly dark hair hanging in a loose braid over one shoulder wearing a blue button down, on his right, and his father, a tall, muscular Afro-Latino with close-cropped hair and a thin mustache wearing a police uniform on his left in front of a desk in a high school guidance counselor's office.

Miles Morales Disappointing His Mom With ‘Spanglish’ Is Relatable Content

I cannot wait for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse! 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse was amazing and is one of my favorite superhero films of all time. Yes, it’s that good. It’s so thrilling to see Miles Morales’ Spider-Man in movies of this quality and caliber, as the first Latino superhero to lead a feature film.

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Wait, did you think that DC’s Blue Beetle was the first Latino superhero to lead a feature film? Well, you’re right in some ways. Blue Beetle will certainly be the first live-action Latino superhero to lead a film, and he is absolutely DC’s first Latino superhero, both in film and in comics.

However, Marvel has consistently beaten DC to the punch when it comes to introducing Latine heroes. The first Latino superhero to grace our screens as the lead in a feature film was Miles Morales when Into the Spider-Verse came out in 2018.

And not to be that Marvel fangirl, but while DC Comics saw the Blue Beetle mantle taken up by Jaime Reyes in 2006, Marvel introduced the first Latino superhero to lead a comic title ever back in 1975.

Color illustration of three generations of the White Tiger character from Marvel Comics. On the far left is the Hector Ayala original from 1975 in a white suit that covers his whole body and face, a gold tiger amulet around his neck. In the middle is Angela Del Toro, in a more feminine suit that covers her whole body and face and has black markings along her sides and on her shoulders. She has a glowing green tiger amulet around her neck. On the right is Ava Ayala who wears a black and white suit that comes up to her neck with a white mask around her eyes, and her long, black hair loose. The text below them reads: "the White Tiger amulets have powered a generation of heroes including Hector Ayala, Angela Del Toro, and Ava Ayala. 'Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #19 (1975)"
(Marvel Comics)

This was Hector Ayala, a.k.a. White Tiger, a Puerto Rican character who first appeared in Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #19. Created by writer Bill Mantlo and Puerto Rican artist George Pérez, White Tiger was cool because he originated as a Latino character. He wasn’t a Latino taking on the mantle from someone else. He was the first.

Subsequent White Tigers were an Indian woman, a Black Jewish man, and two Latinas—Angela Del Toro, Hector Ayala’s niece, and Ava Ayala, his youngest sister. This character has always been embodied by people of color. (And mostly women!) You can check out more info about White Tiger in this awesome explainer by TMS’ own Rachel Ulatowski.

From 1975-2003, Marvel was the only major comics company that had a Latino superhero character leading a comic title, but it was nice of DC to catch up in 2006. There have, of course, been many other Latine superheroes in indie comics and beyond, and while Marvel can boast creating Black Panther, the first major Black superhero, back in 1966, the very first Black superhero was Lion Man, who arrived courtesy of All-Negro Comics #1 back in 1947.

Being Latine is complicated, even when you’re not a superhero

Sony Pictures dropped this Across the Spider-Verse clip today, and as a Latina who was an Honor Student her entire high school career, it had me both delighting and cringing in recognition.

First, there’s the pride expressed by his parents as a guidance counselor reveals Miles’ terrific grades. That pride even finds Rio, Miles’ mother, making excuses for an A- in English by saying that the teacher “is a tough grader.” But then the guidance counselor brings up Miles’ B in Spanish.

His father, Jefferson, cringes knowing that Rio will not be pleased. Sure enough, she is not, and she snaps at Miles in Puerto Rican (note the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flag that pops up when she snaps at him)! Miles insists that “eso no es my fault.” When Rio questions his response, asking if he’s actually taking a “Spanglish” class, Miles confesses that he may have missed a few Spanish classes.

Okay, five Spanish classes.

Okay, okay, six. He’s missed six classes, okay? It’s hard to get to class when you’re Spider-Man and saving the freaking world in multiple universes!

To a Puerto Rican mom, however, that’s not a good enough excuse!

Being Puerto Rican in the U.S.

(Sony Pictures)

My experience of being Puerto Rican and Miles Morales’ are very different. First of all, both my parents were born on the island, whereas Miles has a mixed heritage. His mother is Puerto Rican, while his father is a Black American.

Holding onto Spanish was difficult for me despite being raised in a household with two Spanish-speaking parents who spoke Spanish to each other. I always spoke just enough Spanish for my mom to understand me, and she spoke just enough English for me to understand her, but neither one of us was ever communicating in a way that made us both comfortable.

I can imagine the difficulty Miles would have learning Spanish when he only has one parent who speaks it, and that parent speaks to his other parent in English. However, that would make it even more urgent to Rio for Miles to take that class seriously in school, as his only other regular exposure to the language they share.

Speaking of things they share as a family, I also noticed that Miles’ dad’s uniform has the name “Morales” on it. I wondered how that could be, since Jefferson isn’t Latino. Then, I remembered that his birth name is Jefferson Davis—the same name as the guy who was the first and only President of the Confederacy.

Yeah, I can see why a Black man wouldn’t want to share a name with that guy. What were his parents thinking?

Partly wanting to distance himself from that other “Jefferson Davis,” and partly to distance himself from his own family’s less savory history, Jefferson legally changed his name to Jefferson Morales in Miles Morales: Spider-Man Vol. 1 #22 (2021), which explains why the nameplate on his uniform has changed in this clip.

So, despite Miles being of mixed heritage, and Jefferson still being very much a Black American, their new, unified family name identifies them as a Latine family.

I kind of love that. While I can’t claim Blackness, there’s plenty of Afro-Latine in my background as a Puerto Rican. I would love to see even more representation and acknowledgement that Latine come in all shades, not just the generic “light brown” that Hollywood keeps giving us.

Miles Morales and his family give Latine the nuanced representation we deserve, awkward Spanish and all.

(featured image: Sony Pictures)


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Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.