Dr. Benjamin Looker
Urban Crisis ASTD 322
February 23, 2009
Cultural Diversity within the Neighborhood
Sitting in a dark theatre, an audience begins to rustle in their seats with excitement, anxiously awaiting the start of the show. The lights dim and the anticipation are diminished as the lights come up, the set of a street side unveils, and the beat begins. In one instant, the audience is transported from a simple theatre to the lively street-side of the neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York. This production is the 2008 Tony-winning “Best Musical” In the Heights. Written and composed by Lin Manuel Miranda, the show combines hip-hop and rap music with a variety of dancing styles to portray the life in the barrio of the immigrant filled neighborhood of Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York. By watching the show, the audience experiences the struggles of life, which include dropping out of college, failing to pay rent, losing loved ones, and living within a world where immigrants and the poor do not have power. The musical demonstrates how communities of immigrants live their lives to promote positive identity for their cultural background by establishing pride within ones race. In the Heights is a cultural representation of how acceptance into American Culture is not done by total assimilation but rather through promotion of cultural diversity within a neighborhood.
In the Heights presents the culture and social problems of the community of Washington Heights as they try and solve their problems of assimilation. To begin the show, a hip-hop themed music number introduces each “mom and pop store” on the street and describes how life is bustling with business as everyone runs around town doing what needs to be done. The plot begins with the story of Nina, the first girl to go to college from the barrio, as she tells her parents how she failed to handle her full course load and her two part-time jobs causing her to drop out of college. In response, her father, Kevin, decides to sell his taxi company in order to pay for her tuition. By selling the company, Kevin puts many people out of work which initiates the first transformation of the street life. Since less people are going to be visiting the neighborhood without Kevin’s business, Daniela’s Hair Salon and Usnavi’s Corner Store face miserable loses and are on the verge of closing. The culture of the Barrio seems to be diminishing with the loss of the stores and as a result, they celebrate the Fourth of July at the club as one last night together. During the celebration, a blackouts strikes the city and the Barrio is left powerless. Violence spreads throughout the neighborhood as Usnavi’s Corner Store is broken into and destroyed. As a way to raise the spirits, the citizens have a “Carnival del Barrio” which embraces their cultures and allows them to realize their diversity. The Carnival also brings the community closer together making them recognize that they can thrive amongst themselves without the help of others to create their own “power” and fun. After the Carnival, Usnavi realizes he won $96,000 in the lottery and decides that he is going to sell his store to return to his homeland of the Dominican Republic. At this point in the show, everyone recognizes that within three days, life in Washington Heights has truly changed as the cultural stores and important influential leaders of the community are moving. In response, the community decides to repair Usnavi’s Corner Store with hope to keep the community alive. Usnavi is convinced that their culture is still alive and that he must stay in the Heights so he can carry on the community’s identity by sharing his wisdom of the streets to the Barrio.
The essential piece to fully understanding the cultural changes in In the Heights is to understand the neighborhood that is being expressed through the work. Spanning on the Northern Tip of Manhattan, the neighborhood of...