Monday, July 12, 2021

Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights brought me joy.

This weekend I watched In the Heights, the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's stage musical of the same name. I loved it so much that I watched it on Friday night and then again on Saturday night. The musical itself is the story of several families who live in Washington Heights, which is a neighborhood in New York City that (in 2021) is largely associated with people from the Dominican Republic.

All of them to one extent or another are followers of el sueñito, which is Spanish for "the dream." In the 1950's, when the abuela of the movie was following her sueñito, all they wanted was to have and provide for children who would not have to struggle and experience the losses that they did. In a musical number called Calor, which is Spanish for "heat," this same abuela to the neighborhood sings about the terrible heat wave that claims her life, and how hard it was to leave Cuba, a place where they had clear skies and stars but no food. Her dream wasn't ever to go and be a cleaning lady. But in order to get what she wanted, this is what life dealt her. So she lived in a way that allowed her to have dignity in small places so that she could tell the world that she was not invisible.

The timeframe for In the Heights is vague. It is set around a blackout that lasts for days in July. Miranda wrote it in the nineties, and he drew inspiration for it from events in the 70's. The original show premiered on Broadway in 2008. But the theatrical musical adaptation that was on HBO Max through June and July (and in theaters) was set right now. This is more than clear with the issues surrounding one of the undocumented dreamers in the show who desperately wants a green card and citizenship in the United States during a time when racism and white nationalism is on the rise nationwide.

Although I can identify with everyone's sueñito in the movie, the theme that struck me most was the idea of being able to forge a life with people in one place and to call that place home. Too often, people are pulled in different directions in life. They move away to different zip codes or country codes, and it can feel like (for those who stay) that the place they called home is dying. The thing I found remarkable was that this story was a way in which young people transitioned to adulthood, yet still came back home to live their lives and continue their story among friends and family. That certainly might have been one thing I would have welcomed in my own life, but I was never able to stick any kind of landing in the place where I was born and have long since left that place and all those who I knew that I might have called, "friend."

If you haven't seen the show, I recommend that you take some time out of your schedule and earnestly watch it. In the Heights resonated with me, because I've experienced discomfort and isolation in schools and workplaces for the way I looked, my lack of religious beliefs, and for my sexuality. I existed in a space and aspired to goals that in many ways, the widespread population of Idaho and Utah would say was not intended for me to achieve. And that's just the truth of it. In the Heights was in many ways about the "otheringness" that Puerto Ricans feel. But anyone who is part of a minority can definitely relate, and feel the power it takes to have pride in oneself and not be apologetic for it. This show brought me joy, and I'm glad it was so readily available to watch.


  1. I don't have HBO anymore so probably not going to see this for a while.

  2. I was going to watch this, but I just don't watch movies, so I kept putting it off. And now its month is up, so I missed out. But as Wonder Woman 1984 came back after a couple months, I assume I'll have to catch this when it returns after its "theatrical run" is over.