Right before Thanksgiving break, the Argus published a review of a student remake of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights.” As a Dominican-American with immigrant parents, I as well as other students of color were frustrated with the various ways in which this production was disrespected.

In the review, the writer questioned whether the story depicted an accurate reality for those living in Washington Heights. While her social critique was not wrong, “In the Heights” is about much more than just gentrification. “In the Heights” was meant to tell a nuanced story about everything in the immigrant experience — love, family, community, in addition to social commentary. Not all stories about oppressed populations need to be about their oppression; in fact, much of the US immigrant experience is defined by a transformation from overcoming this oppression. There is beauty within our displacement too. Moreover, the use of the word “conservative” to describe the story totally ignores how charged the term is — in this country, being “conservative” can mean anything from opposing affirmative action to believing in incarcerating all undocumented immigrants. Especially when used against a show of all-POC, the label “conservative” dismisses our struggle against the racist, oppressive structures that people in power abuse us with every single day.

Even if the director, Milton Espinoza Jr. and everyone else involved in the show found a way to legally change the script to make its social critique more salient, this new show would simply not be “In The Heights.” If Espinoza Jr. were to remake the musical, it could have been interpreted as a critique of Lin-Manuel’s efforts to rightfully expand musical theater productions to POC and capture the NYC immigrant experience. But given that Lin-Manuel literally redefined the role of POC in musical theater by writing this show, it is perfectly fair for Espinoza Jr. and company to simply pay respect to such an instrumental figure with a faithful rerun.

Curiously, the writer actually did pick a scene that deserves to be analyzed. I, too, found the “Carnaval Del Barrio” scene kinda off, but not for the same reason. As everyone was celebrating proudly and waving the flags of Latin America in the streets of New York City, I couldn’t help but notice that the Spanish flag was included in the scene. Pero mi gente, as sung by Fulanito in “Guallando”: “en el 1492 llegó un tipo que dijo que descubrió la quisqueya mía, ave maría, get outta here con eso.” In a production about Dominican-Americans and other members of the diaspora, it is demeaning to Latinx-American immigrants to elevate the flag of their colonisers and oppressors to the same level as their own. As Ricardo Vega elaborated in his Wesleying post, “In the Heights with the Whites–White Students in POC Spaces,” given that white people already take up so much space that should belong to POC, Christopher Columbus especially does not deserve a seat at the table.

*Chadwick Boseman entered the chat* “We don’t do that here.”

The review was on the front page of the Argus, but it was relegated to a space all the way down on the small corner of the front page, amplifying conversations about how POC shows are egregiously undercovered in the Argus. This lack of representation compounds the struggle for students of color in theater, who already need to contend with a white-dominated space. However, the front page story was about a conflict between a white student and a young black boy that could have resulted in the latter being killed or jailed by the Middletown police. While it is true that the Traverse Square conflict deserves more attention, this unfortunate coincidence in news coverage does not absolve the Argus and the greater Wesleyan community of continually marginalizing POC voices and experiences on campus. It is exceedingly rare and such an astonishing achievement for a Wesleyan musical production to have an all-POC cast, and the Argus as well as the Wesleyan community must understand the frustration stemming from this lack of attention compared to predominately-white student productions.

Under Trump’s regime, it is difficult to be an immigrant — and even dangerous for undocumented folx terrorized by state violence. It is exactly because of these challenges that it is important for stories like “In the Heights” to inspire hope and resilience for immigrant families of color in the US. Because while “pluck, hard work, and a strong sense of community” is not “a solution for all ills,” it definitely must be a part of the solution. And it is precisely through showcasing these nuances that “art goes further.”

Thank you to EVERYONE that was involved in this show. Thank you for the hard work y’all pulled. Thank you for representing our stories. Seeing you made us smile, laugh, and bawl out crying. No pare sigue sigue!

  • Ralphiec88

    I could almost laugh at the trumped up grievances, but Amador’s casual embrace of prejudice is troubling. It should not be surprise that a review wasn’t entirely positive, and wasn’t the top story (although it did make the front page, much better than most reviews get). Similar the presence of the flag of Spain doesn’t “elevate the oppressor”. But when you embrace the notion that there were too many people in the audience of the wrong color, it’s time to look inward.

    • Alice

      Hey Ralphiec88, Amador’s grievances are valid. The presence of the Spanish flag does elevate the oppressor. The flag is a symbol of nationalism and historical triumph, which in the context of Spain translates to imperialism, especially in a musical focusing on the narratives of people they have colonized (e.g. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, etc.). It is you who is failing to recognize the power dynamics at play. Also, it is okay to acknowledge that white students tend to overwhelm spaces that are created for people of color (POC) to engage in the arts, that is literally the reason why Lin Manuel Miranda himself does predominantly POC casting. Many students of color on Wesleyan’s campus were not allowed to see literally one of the only productions that represented their story because white students decided to overwhelm a space that was not designed for them.

      • Ralphiec88

        white students decided to overwhelm a space that was not designed for them

        Think about that statement for a moment. Replace “white” with “black” and hear the echoes of centuries of racism in this country. White students didn’t “decide to overwhelm” (though invasion imagery is always popular with racists and xenophobes), they bought tickets because they wanted to see the performance. Regardless of what’s on stage, shows sometimes become a sensation and everyone wants to go. Normally in theater, that’s considered success.
        If you follow the arc of race relations in this country, you find scenes of incredible courage and leadership that resulted in huge steps forward for people of color. There’s still a long way to go. And yet, some of today’s most privileged inheritors of that legacy (and if you’re reading this, you’re one of them) seem eager not to continue that struggle, but to argue for Balkanization and adopt the language of oppression. That’s remarkable, and tragic.

      • Alice

        Do I experience relative privilege because I’m a student? Yes. Does this mean that I do not experience life as an Afro-Latina and therefore cannot speak to experience? No. To critique racial dynamics at a predominantly white institution is not oppressive. Race being a topic of conversation does not inherently make one’s language oppressive. To critique white consumerism is not oppressive, but white consumerism itself can be oppressive and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

      • Ralphiec88

        Straw man, I didn’t question anyone’s right to speak. And disparaging the desire of students to see a performance by their peers as “white consumerism” is doubling down on racism.

      • Alice

        I’m sorry that you feel that way. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

      • Dovregubben

        …because it’s more convenient to complain about a flag that hasn’t flown over Puerto Rico since 1898, than to protest something actually oppressive like the Jones Act.

      • Alice

        Is there no room to critique both?

        That is literally not that long ago, if you conceptualize it through generations. My great grandparents were alive to see Spanish colonization and the immediate aftermath.

        Also, regardless how long ago Spain colonized Puerto Rico, PR was colonized for 400+ years. You have to acknowledge the bearing Spanish colonial history has on present-day discourse.

      • Ralphiec88

        If 120 years is too soon, when does it become ok to display a Spanish flag again? If the mere display of a flag on a stage in Connecticut “elevates the oppressor”, then what do you make of 95% of Puerto Ricans speaking Spanish today? Dov has a point. There are clear issues in the here and now that are vitally important to the people of Puerto Rico. And yet you choose to rail against “power dynamics” of a century ago. That’s probably worth a few points with like-minded classmates, but it’s nothing but lip service.

  • Alice

    Great piece, Stef! You’re doing a great job at furthering the conversation!

  • Pacienca y Fe

    I worked on ITH and as much as the review stung, I am hesitant to accuse the Argus of racism, especially because the author of the review is a POC. Could she have actually focused on the production itself instead of elements that were beyond the control of the performers? Yes. Are she and the Argus at fault for being “racist”? Clearly not. As Stef says, the piece was at the bottom of the page because the Argus felt the need to prioritize a pressing news story about the racial inequities between Wesleyan and the greater Middletown community. As much effort as I put into that production, I have to agree with the choice to prioritize Traverse Square.