I have lived in Washington Heights for 3 years and also work at a dual-language school right on 181st Street. Although I wasn’t born or raised in this community, I have grown to love every part of it. I believe the film captured various beautiful aspects of the community of Washington Heights. As Leslie Grace (Nina) and Corey Hawkins (Benny) lovingly sang “When You’re Home” in J. Hood Wright Park, I couldn’t help but squeal, “I walk my dog there every day!” and look for myself in the background. As Daphne Rubin-Vega (Daniela), Stephanie Beatriz (Carla), and Dascha Polanco (Cuca) gossiped in the salon, I recalled my nail technician on 178th and Broadway telling me about her daughter’s new boyfriend and her son’s obsession with Jordans. As Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia) sang of her dearly departed Cuba, I couldn’t help but think of my neighbor Sonia, a kind-hearted, fierce Cuban woman who always had her hair done and would gift me a bottle of wine every month for helping her run errands. As Lin-Manuel (Piragua Guy) sang of his rivalry with the Mr. Softee truck, I recalled how many times I chose one over the other and how my students would exclaim, “Why do we STILL hear the ice cream truck, EVEN in the Winter?!”. It was incredibly beautiful to see the Latinx community and its customs portrayed loud and proud on the big screen. Especially after so many years of only seeing actors from our community portray stereotypes.
In addition to all of the joy and pride, I felt while watching this film, I also have to acknowledge, strongly validate and bring to light colorism and the casting of the lead roles in the film. It is no secret that Afro-Latinxs are a staple of the Washington Heights community. It is also no secret to anyone in the Latinx community that Afro-Latinxs, particularly dark-skinned individuals, have a long history of being pushed to the side, victims of violence, discriminated against, and disrespected. This is a reality that the Latinx community must face in order to move forward in a new world of universal acceptance. We should not only strive for equality, but we should also strive for celebration. The representation of dark-skinned Afro-Latinx individuals should not only be as a customer at the salon, a graffiti artist or a little girl getting her curls brushed and braided; it should be as the romantic lead, a character with as much depth as their light-skinned or white-passing Latinx counterparts. I can’t say that I can fully understand colorism as I have benefitted from it. All I can do is try to educate myself on its negative impact and try to take steps each day to do my part towards unraveling the complicated and painful web that it has formed within the Latinx community.