'In the Heights' Has Me in the Clouds

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Thanks to my dad, I have always been an avid lover of the arts, and theatrical performances are among my favorites. I still remember some of my more precious moments with my padre being at the theater, a tradition that carried over when I would visit his side of the family, primarily with my tia abuela (great-aunt). She is a first-generation immigrant from Colombia and has always felt the arts are important. They are a way to connect with yourself and different cultures — something that was important to her upon arriving in the United States.

On almost every visit I had with her in my youth, she would make it a point to visit a museum, an art gallery, or a theater production, and she fueled my love for artists of every kind at a young age. My favorites were, of course, the theater visits, particularly musicals. I remember on one visit, she scandalously purchased The Phantom of the Opera screenplay because of my infatuation with the dark, romantic storyline and incredible music, even if it was slightly mature for 11-year-old me (she was also the “fun” aunt). When I received the opportunity to travel to New York City for the first time in high school, Broadway shows were high on my list of must-sees.

On that trip, I saw my beloved Phantom of the Opera, along with Wicked and The Little Mermaid. I desperately tried to get into other productions like Rent and Hairspray, but they were sold out. Still, I was happy the shows were thriving. Like so many, I was enthralled with New York City life and invigorated by its many unique cultural footprints — primarily expressed through the arts, something I might not have appreciated without my aunt and my dad. I would return to the Big Apple three more times after high school — primarily in search of a job post-college graduation — and still, I would always make time to visit the MoMA, a show, or an exhibit.

I started to feel the itch to return to the lively city again last year, desperate for a taste of cultural immersion and “anything is possible” energy. My fiancé and I had begun to plan a trip to New York City — and then the pandemic hit.

"Complete with a whirlwind of love stories, fashion, culture, and sing-along-worthy numbers, I found myself lost in the movie’s makeshift New York energy and was reminded once again why the arts are so important."

It was a long hard year without my arts fix or seeing my tia and dad. And even with mandates lifting, my trip to New York City is still on hold. So, when I was offered a taste of my beloved melting pot via the film version of In the Heights, my heart sang.

The energetic film, director Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ original stage production, put me right back on the streets of New York and the colorful city I love. Complete with a whirlwind of love stories, fashion, culture and sing-along-worthy numbers, I found myself lost in the movie’s makeshift New York energy and was reminded once again why the arts are so important. They have the ability to transport you, allow you a sneak peek into someone else’s world, and most importantly, connect cultures through creative prompts and stimulating conversation.

While I wasn’t able to see this production onstage, movies are just as much a part of the art world as my dear theater performances. I soon found myself thinking of my dad and my tia, and I called my aunt not long after watching the film.

When I asked my tia if she had seen the musical, she said it was one of her favorites. Enriched with nods to our Latino heritage, morals, and community, it isn’t hard to see why this one reigns supreme on her list. We spent a good chunk of that conversation discussing the film and its inspiring story line as if we had seen it together in person. 

And while she and I, and New York City, may be separated for a little while longer, I’m grateful we always have the arts to bring us back together again.


Tags: Grandparents, Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity, Family, Pop Culture

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Jessica Amaris

Jessica Amaris is a writing aficionado with a diverse background in editing, digital media, and creative marketing content. See Full Bio

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