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“In The Heights” Gives People In The Latino Diaspora A Way To Really See Themselves On Screen

As a child of immigrants, you never experience anything on your own: you coexist with the times that came before you – with the ancestors that came before you. You take them everywhere with you. Those moments and ancestors are still there, reminding you of the sueñitos – the dreams – of those who came before you.

The sueñitos, as “In the Heights” so aptly describes, are the dreams of our diaspora.

I first experienced “In the Heights” in 2009, on a cold winter night at the Richard Rodgers Theater. I had just moved to New York, in the midst of a recession, to try and become an actor / writer. As Abuela Claudia sang “Pacienca y Fe” towards the end of Act I, I felt electricity run from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Every part of me felt alive in a way I had never felt before and tears were involuntarily flowing from my eyes. I felt the desire for a land that I have never known.

Like Abuela Claudia, my mother is from La Vibora in Havana. Like Abuela Claudia, when my two abuelas arrived in this country – one as a social worker and the other as a school principal – they both saw their life experiences taken away from them. And just like Abuela Claudia, my grandmother cleaned houses until she could go back to school and start over.

It told me that there was a place for me that I didn’t see any, and it gave me the courage to keep trying when I was ready to give up.

While Abuela Claudia sang, I thought about all the sacrifices made to be able to be in the theater and live this moment.

Like so many young artists who first saw each other in “In The Heights”, it told me that there was a place for me where I didn’t see any, and it gave me courage. to keep trying when I was ready to give up. “In the Heights” also showed me that there was a way to write my own story – a musical about my parents’ experience coming here when they were young. In 2015 it was produced in New York and the actor who played Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) was in the audience. It was a sign from the universe that I was finally on the right track.

I knew it would be moving when I finally got to see the movie; it means so much to so many people. But I wasn’t prepared for the multitude of feelings I’ve been trying to unpack since seeing him a few nights ago.

These sensations started with the opening act, which ends with a stunning photo of Alice Brooks of Usnavi looking out of her bodega window with the reflection of her neighbors dancing not only for her dreams but for their own. dreams. Witnessing a celebration of life right now on the streets of New York City, as the city begins to emerge from the devastation of the past 15 months, was overwhelming. Seeing a musical in its most extravagant and luxurious form as we move towards a reopening of the theater industry after 15 months in our Zoom boxes is almost too much to even think about.

And yet the things I will carry with me the most after seeing the film are not just the stunning visual sequences from director Jon M. Chu, but the tiny little moments.

The people and communities of our collective diasporas are seen. And it’s so beautiful that it hurts.

It was the photo of Abuela Claudia cooking in the kitchen with the same cazuelita my grandmother used, making the same ropa vieja with the little olives. It was the shots of fricasé de pollo, the galleticas with guava y queso, and the flan soaked in caramel.

It was the glass elephant figurine in Abuela Claudia’s apartment – the one that looks like Yayo’s, who was our Abuela Claudia in my neighborhood in Miami – the same glass elephant that every Cuban grandmother does because that he brings luck and dinner to your house. This is how Piragua Guy (Lin-Manuel Miranda) pulled out of his pocket a little Estafanía Western novel, reminding me of the dozens and dozens of same Estafanía westerns in my Abuela’s house, filling me with flesh. from head to toe.

It was something as simple as a photo of The Floridita restaurant. Because it reminds you that your introduction to New York was on this very block, because the Cuban bus from Miami to New York didn’t drop you off at the Port Authority bus station on 42nd Street – no, it dropped you off. right there in Washington Heights, because that’s where your family was, and the families of all the other passengers on the bus. And a stone’s throw from The Floridita, that’s where your mother lived when she arrived in this country. And then you cry again, and you still don’t really know why.

And then it hits you: it’s because you are not the only one to be seen by “In The Heights”. Your abuelos, your Yayo and your parents are seen. And you know that the younger ones who will see “In The Heights” now will have the same experience I had in 2009 – they will be told that there is a place for them when they thought there is. had none, and they will finally feel seen.

The people and communities of our collective diasporas are seen. And it’s so beautiful that it hurts.

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