* I'm not a Latino nor a North American, which means I may not be aware of some of the cultural values these communities bear.

** My purpose in writing this article is to explain the value of the movie. 

*** The article may contain a spoiler.

In the heights movie review

Lights up on Washington Heights!

The musical film based on a play with the same title, In The Heights, is to appraise the filmgoers of Latinx culture in the New York's ghetto neighborhood. With catchy lyrics and cheeky dancing, the movie talks about the struggles Latin people deal with in the barrio, creating American hopes and dreams for every character. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the play's creator—and Hamilton may ingeniously present "hopes and dreams" into a complex definition. But it's all packed up into one simple Spanish word: sueñito.

Defining Dream

In the heights movie review

So, what does sueñito mean? Sueñito means little dream. As Usnavi, the character, explains, a dream "isn't some sparkling diamond we get—sometimes it's rough." For him, sueñito itself is all about going back to his childhood memories in the Dominican Republic to rebuild what his parents left. But to get back to their parents' heritage, he has to run a bodega to save some money.

In the same sense, every other character has sueñito too. Vanessa (Usnavi's crush who works in the neighborhood salon) wants to be a fashion designer. Meanwhile, Usnavi's cousin, Sonny, fights for a green card to be a permanent resident of New York. In addition, Nina tells us that she climbed to the top of a subway map (pronounced: "the world") restlessly until she gave up because of her uneasiness to assimilate with the non-Latin culture of Stanford. But the root of these people's dreams comes from a single old lady, Abuela Claudia.

Living by the care of Usnavi, Abuela Claudia is the matriarch of the Heights. The kind-hearted elder adopts the entire barrio along with their sueñitos—which she refers to both as "birds," the symbol of freedom and escape. Frequently blasting Paciencia y fe as her life motto, she sets up the dreams for the whole community she builds.

Setting an Ideal Dream

Back to what Usnavi says, the dream is not a sparkling diamond. Thus, it is idealistic to assume that everyone can shovel up a buried treasure full of gems in their lives. As kids, we used to be taught to work hard and obey the rules to stack money and things we wanted to come. But it may be a purblind move. It makes us forget about what is actually happening around us. For example, we don't always make dollars from hard work—but we still keep pretending we can achieve these unrealistic goals we thirst to collect.

Usnavi once made this mistake too. He was so eager to fly back to his Caribbean paradise. Many were skeptical about his dreamland, though, including Abuela and Sonny. Abuela once compared his sueñito to her mother’s laborious life. She recalled her mother scrubbing the floor for her entire life to get nothing but to survive. Based on that experience, she argued that moving to Dominican Republic wouldn't change the bodega owner's fate.

With the same response, Sonny considered Usnavi's dream as the corniest thing the cousin had ever heard. He then reminded him about how he had gotten the name—which came from his father after seeing a US Navy (hence the name) warship. In the end, after Vanessa convinced him to stay, Usnavi finally announced that he gave up his trip and started accepting Washington Heights as his genuine home—and making a second date with Vanessa too!

From Usnavi's experience, we learn that building a dream starts from what we are already given and uses it to achieve it. Nina realizes this as she sees many unlucky Hispanics who don't get a good education. Soon after that, she feels so grateful about what she's already equipped with (her father's support for her college) and uses it to change the future for these people. 

Patience and Faith

However, our life is short. Do we have enough time to manage our sueñito to be true? In the starving year of 1943, Abuela Claudia and her mother used to fight poverty in La Vibora, the town of their people. Recalling the heat, she describes the area as Havana's Washington Heights. When she suffered, the mother would always tell her "paciencia y fe" (patience and faith) in hopes of survival. As there were no jobs in Cuba, her mamá then decided to dock themselves in Nueva York to find work as maids later. Her mamá's dream was simple, to make the family survive. But sadly, she died even before Abuela could live on the easy street.

Did she make her dream come true? After her mother's death, Abuela Claudia is stuck in Washington Heights, inheriting dreams from her mother by "feeding birds" in the block. The days into years, and the neighborhood is now filled with diverse Latin faces from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Cuba. It means Claudia's mamá has fulfilled her dream—keeping her family (now the whole block) surviving.

Now we can see the sueñito keeps inherited from Usnavi after Abuela passed away due to the scorching summer heat. Debts and bills close the old businesses and force the stressed inhabitants to move out of the hood. The gentrification is escalating; Rosario sells his business, the salon ladies move to the Bronx, and Nina goes back to Stanford. But Usnavi has decided to stay and canceled his homecoming to DR. He builds his new sueñito there—in Washington Heights, to keep the Latinx community persisting.

Praising Life

Abuela says, "Little details tell the world we are not invisible." The night sky, bread crumbs, lottery tickets, handmade napkins, these are things that we often don't pay attention to. But for Abuela, those are the blessings from God. As the name suggests, Sueñito means a small dream, not the big one. The latter won't be easy to reach since we are powerless sentients. Instead, the rough rocks around us are the belittled dreams we can enjoy.

As any Latino would say, the precious thing we have is family. Abuela has no children, but the block gives her charming hopes and dreams. She's not alone on the day her heart's about to give out. And with patience and faith, her dream will keep shining in the Heights because of the birds she has been feeding.

The movie proposes a realistic way to look for dreams. As many people may not realize, the fulfilled dream comes from our sensitivity to the things we have and to make it continue to rise, we must believe in the heritage we establish. So, when we fly away to the sky full of stars, we still leave a lot of breadcrumbs to the other birds to feed on. 

*All pictures in this article are taken from the scenes of the movie.

Writer: Ristyawan Pratama

Editor: Hasna F