"This is so funny. The name doesn't make any sense. At first, I just wanted to do a story of a knight in the middle of some sort of forest. I wanted him to be sort of tribal-looking. In this case, I chose [a] very Spanish character and that was the title of 'Jibaro,' without knowing what jibaro means," Mielgo said in an interview with Comic Book Resources (CBR). "Then I started [doing] some research, and jibaro is a word that, in South America, they use in different countries with different meanings apparently. In some countries, it means some sort of wild or savage [person], and in some other countries, it means some sort of countryside person that works in the fields. I think that even in Venezuela, it has something to do with dealing [at] a high level," he says, laughing. Mielgo concludes by saying, "I just think that it's a cool catchy name. It sounds sort of exotic for some reason, so I wanted to stick with it. By the way, in the movie we never actually say who is Jibaro, which is kind of the funny thing. We assume it's him, but maybe it's not."
Merriam-Webster's definition of "jibaro" is "a Puerto Rican small farmer, rural worker, or laborer, especially of mountainous regions." But for Puerto Ricans, that word actually holds a lot more weight. It doesn't just mean a self-subsistence farmer - it means more than that. A jibaro is often seen as a reflection of Puerto Rican people, and in a much more positive light than folks outside of the Puerto Rican community might perceive them. The irony here is that Mielgo obviously doesn't have a clear grasp or understanding of the word's true meaning or historical context. The fact that he sees it as a "cool catchy name" that "sounds sort of exotic" is proof of that.
"That was the gut punch. I felt like all those jibaros who lost the revolt to Spain in 1868 and 1897," says writer and creator of La Borinqueña comics Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez on Mielgo's decision to title the short "Jibaro," despite it not making sense with the content. "All those jibaros who marched in the summer of 2019 to demand that Governor Ricardo Rosselló resign as governor when La Colectiva Feminista exposed his corruption, only so Rosselló's former secretary of state would win his gubernatorial race with only 32.93 percent of the vote in the fall of 2020. Mielgo's response in that CBR interview was such a rude awakening, a reminder that until we are telling our own stories, we can expect to have our histories, experiences, and language appropriated and sold back to us."
"As a Puerto Rican, I grew up understanding that the word 'jibaro' referred to people in Puerto Rico who lived in the countryside as farmers mostly. They were the working class of Puerto Rico that faced the most loss when the archipelago was industrialized from 1950 to 1960," he says. "When I discovered Mielgo's 'Love, Death + Robots' episode 'Jibaro,' I was immediately drawn by the title. I watched the short film and was moved emotionally. I went in as a Puerto Rican viewer with full knowledge of my history and heritage, searching for a story that spoke to me."
Miranda-Rodriguez says that while watching, he immediately perceived the setting to be the island of Puerto Rico. But he was confused while watching it. He didn't understand who was supposed to be the jibaro in the short.
"I saw a stylized hipster-looking conquistador and a siren bedazzled in gold necklaces and jewelry, but neither of these main characters to me personified jibaro. I finished the episode with the takeaway that this spoke to colonialism," he explains. "I remember Mielgo for his recent Oscar win, so knowing that he is a Spaniard further perplexed me."
For a short that was created to be open for interpretation, but whose director did not intend for it to be about colonialism, it is quite ironic that so many folks interpreted it to be that. But what is even more ironic and upsetting is that the word "jibaro," a term that in many ways is almost rooted in resilience, was chosen as the episode's title. It also speaks not just to the importance of language and the words and the terms we use but also how the appropriation and lack of consideration of words that are rooted in the diaspora can actually contribute to their meanings being lost or misunderstood. Imagine being a non-Latinx person or even a non-Puerto Rican hearing Mielgo's definition or interpretation of the word and then watching the short. That could easily lead to a completely different understanding of jibaro. In an industry that still groups Spanish and Latinx folks together - because we share the same language - one can't help but wonder, do Hollywood gatekeepers think Mielgo getting an Emmy nomination is a win for Latinx Americans? Are we still here? If so, that would explain a lot.
"As an artist, I saw the production value of the piece. The storytelling and pacing were very well done. The character designs are gorgeous. But when I realized that this piece does not represent my heritage as a Boricua, I felt disregarded - like a cheap joke," Miranda-Rodriguez shares. "When Mielgo laughed during his interview when he said that he thought [jibaro] was a drug-dealing Venezuelan reference, that confirmed he knew nothing of its Puerto Rican significance. Today, there are still jibaros fighting for social justice against colorism and corporatization. There are jibaros leading sustainable farming projects like El Departmento de la Comida. There are jibaros installing solar panels and batteries in communities in Vieques and Guayama like Resilient Power Puerto Rico . . . despite this realization, I knew this episode would receive an Emmy nomination. In a space where my own property La Borinqueña is navigating inquiries from studios. I also navigate the reality when producers respond with comments like 'too niche' because as gatekeepers that white people are in Hollywood, they determine what is of value and what stories will be produced and inevitably awarded." 781b155fdc