Paragon of Diaspora: How Superboy’s Heritage Struggles Mirrored My Own

Jon Kent Cover

As I’m catching up on CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” they talk about Paragons: characters with undeniable virtues, embodiments of a defining trait. They name several in quick succession as the events stumbles on, but as I watch I wonder what other Paragons could possibly exist in different realities. And truthfully, there’s only one example that comes to mind.

Superboy

Jon Kent is a Midwesterner, son of an immigrant and American military brat. He has only ever known one home and has only heard stories about the other. Neither of his parents know exactly what he’s going through, because they’ve gone through exactly what he’s going through. He’s not an alien, and he’s not human. Logically, he is something in between, but this means he is something more than just the simple sum of two parts. Jon Kent is a mixed kid, and he knows other mixed kids; they get some of the struggle but never all of it because while there are similarities, you can’t correlate the differences. It wouldn’t be fair to either. But his experience with diaspora helped me with mine.

I think a lot about Jon Kent because my own story is more like him than any other character I’ve read in recent memory. There are not a lot of Filipino superheroes in American comics. If I were to go to my local comic book shop today, there would be exactly two comics that I could pick up that featured a Filipino hero: Agents of Atlas and Aero. Now, I am eternally grateful for Greg Pak for creating Wave and giving her a chance to shine and put a panel with a dish from my childhood front and center and for Alyssa Wong for continuing to develop Wave’s character. There is a comfort knowing that there is a character who looks like my family out there on the shelves and that there is some kid who is going to pick it up, and Wave will instantly become their favorite hero. But Wave’s story does not resemble mine. Unsurprisingly, there is a difference between being a Filipino and being a Filipino American born stateside.

Superboy

My mom was born in Masbate. It is a province of islands near of the center of the Philippines. After college, she moved to the United States to complete her residency as a pediatrician. Both friends of family and she herself told me that she was stubborn: the type of doctor to wear heels while on the floor, to take all of her notes home with her, to constantly make sure her patients were cared for. My father was an Army brat born in Texas, raised in New Jersey. His parents’ parents were English maternally and German paternally. He studied engineering and became a submariner. After various circumstances led my parents to Oakland, California, they were set up on a blind date, they met, and then here I was: Child of Pacific and Atlantic, determined to bounce around from coast to coast before getting stuck in the Midwestern mud.

I have been to the Philippines once, when I was appropriately around Jon Kent’s age, and I learned about my mother’s home and her family, but it would take decades for me to fully appreciate it. I was a dumbass as a middle schooler. I know most middle schoolers are, but in a predominantly white institution in the third richest county of the US, I was a half-White, half-Asian kid whose friends were almost entirely white. I came to the dumbest conclusion I’ve ever made and once declared that “I identify as white” not realizing how much that was my mom’s kryptonite, how much it killed her that her offspring so readily rejected his heritage in favor of assimilation. I’ve spent most of my adult life learning to identify as mixed to identifying as Asian American to identifying as Filipino American because the specificity of language is important, and I don’t want to reject any parts of me.

I don’t know how to speak Tagalog (I have enough trouble with English). I know bits and pieces of my mother’s history, some from anecdotes and other from a box of her writing I keep under my desk. But there are parts of her world I won’t ever know like I know my father’s side of the family. There are gaps in my knowledge, things that I won’t be able to fully connect with or ever understand in their entirety.

Enter Jon Kent.

Art by Dustin Nguyen
Super Sons #11 Variant Cover by Dustin Nguyen

I met him in the summer of 2016 in the pages of Superman #1, and I never felt quite a kinship with a character as this mixed kid learning to come into his own way. Comic book time is weird, and I saw him grow there and in Trinity and both Super Sons sagas and for the longest time, I looked at him and saw myself in his goofy smile and unrelenting earnestness. And the rub here is that comic book time also saw him aged rapidly and now he’s very much an older teenager and off joining the Legion of Super Heroes. Part of me is happy that Jon Kent is getting that type of spotlight but part of me also wanted to watch Jon Kent grow up.

I was harsh when Brian Michael Bendis took over the mainline Superman title in 2018, partly because his style didn’t quite mesh with my preferences, partly because I loved Tomasi’s take on the Superfamily, and partly due to a reason I had always struggled to articulate until now. Jon Kent, before the age up, was a paragon of diaspora. Son of an immigrant and an American, he dealt with the unexpected circumstances of being many things at once. He was disconnected from a direct connection with one half of his entire life and constantly bombarded by the other. And when his grandfather materialized from nowhere and said “come with me to learn all of the things about your heritage your father can’t teach you,” I was sad and mad about this narrative shortcut. That Jon Kent could just go and learn everything he needed to off-screen and come back like that isn’t every diasporic kid’s dream. I wanted to watch Jon Kent continue to grow up and navigate what I had struggled with my whole life. And maybe I won’t get that in the comics, but as I watch the “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” I’m hoping that we’ll get to see him grow up since that’s the story I needed, and I’m sure the story that someone else needs now.

Want to get Black Nerd Problems updates sent directly to you? Sign up here!
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

Jon Kent Cover

Tags:

  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

  • Show Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

Copy link