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Hispanic Heritage Month: “In The Heights” musical

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SBU chapter.

I would consider myself a casual musical theater girly. In school, I auditioned for every play, musical, and choir that they offered. However, I felt out of place when the true musical theater nerds could sing every song and quote the scripts to every Broadway show.

So, when my best friend asked me to see the In The Heights movie when it came to theaters in the summer of 2021, I was not sure what to expect. Little did I know the soundtrack would be on repeat and provide me with an immense amount of cultural insight into the Latino community living in Washington Heights.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, known for his hit musical Hamilton and his soundtracks on animated films, was born to Puerto Rican parents living in Washington Heights. At the age of 19, he wrote In The Heights and it was first performed in July of 2005. 16 years later the movie musical was released.

The movie is a fictionalized depiction of Miranda’s childhood neighborhood. This influence is apparent in the music and the bilingual dialogue. It was even filmed in the real-life Washington Heights. His rich culture highly influenced his career path. It inspired him to make music that matters, especially when it comes to the representation of the Latino community in musicals, TV, and entertainment.

In an interview with Swarthmore, Miranda noted, “I was very conscious of the way Latinos have been portrayed before on stage…I was Bernardo in sixth grade, I directed ‘West Side Story’ my senior year in high school. I saw Paul Simon’s ‘The Capeman’ my senior year in high school as well, and that show just about broke my heart. Not so much for the show, but the fact that it was 40 years after ‘West Side Story’ and we still had knives in our hands and we were still gang members.”

Miranda wanted to provide a genuine perception of the Latino community living in New York while leaving behind the negative portrayal of the population. The characters in the show are not overly dramatized, criminalized, or romanticized they are simply human.

In The Heights follows the story of different people living their lives in Washington Heights. The protagonist, Usnavi, is trying to purchase his late father’s business in the Dominican Republic in order to rediscover his roots. A young woman, Nina, is dealing with discrimination at Standford University and has returned home to figure out what she wants to do. Venessa, who is currently working at the neighborhood salon, is working fervently to attain her career goals as a fashion designer. This musical is a celebration of Latino culture.

I think a song in the movie that perfectly captures this celebration is “Carnaval de barrio”. In this scene, it is a sweltering summer day and the power goes out. Everyone is miserable so Daniela, the owner of the beauty salon in town, rouses the neighborhood into celebration with a song. In the song they sing about raising their flags representing the different places they are from. Some of my favorite songs from the movie are “When the Sun Goes Down”, “Alabanza”, and “96,000”.

If you have not seen this movie yet put it on the top of your list as we celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the history and culture of the United States this month. This musical is a story of love, hope, determination, and just how crucial community is.

Kim Mitchell is a member of the SBU Her Campus chapter. This is her second year writing for the site. Kim covers advice and experience pertaining to college life and emotional well-being. She also covers popular media such as trending telivision shows and books. Kim is currently a senior at St.Bonaventure University. She is pursuing a bachelor of arts in psychology and a spanish minor with aspirations to attain a masters in clinical mental health counseling. When she is not writing you can find Kim singing in her church's worship band, outside enjoying nature, or curled up with a good book. She is always down to challenge you in a game of Mario Kart, knowing full well she will probably be in last place.