Theatre Thursdays: How I Learned Representation Matters

It is the sad duty of this blogger to inform the people of the internet that Theatre Thursdays, a weekly glimpse into the world of the performing arts, entered immortality at 800 hours today.

Cue requiem.

Yes, this article marks the end of Theatre Thursdays as a weekly column here on Lady Geek Girl and Friends. We’ve loved having it as a feature on the site, but the time has come to shift our focus elsewhere. Don’t worry! There will still be the occasional post on various live performing arts! We just won’t be devoting weekly articles to the genre.

With the close of this column, I want to finally write an article that I’ve been playing around with in my head. I’ve had this idea gestating for a few years but never felt quite ready to put it into words. This is the story of the time I saw the musical In the Heights and realized how important representation in entertainment really is.

In the Heights- Original Broadway Cast

Before I begin, I feel it necessary to give a little information about myself. I’m half Mexican, but barring the summer months I usually look white. I grew up far from Texas where the Mexican side of my family still resides, and had no Latino influences in my community. As such, I didn’t really identify as Mexican. I knew that it was my heritage but, apart from eating tortillas at my Grandma’s house, it didn’t mean anything to me personally.

When I went to college, however, more and more people seemed to recognize me as a Latino, or at least not white. I was told that I was “racially ambiguous” for the first time in my life and I was surprised, but glad, to know that my heritage was more apparent than I had realized. In these years I also started visiting my Mexican family more and forming real bonds with them. It was around this time that I saw In the Heights on Broadway and had my view on the topic of representation changed.

In the Heights tells the stories of multiple people living in the NYC barrio of Washington Heights. The music, composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is known for being one of the first hip-hop scores to find some success on Broadway. The production is also known for having a predominantly Latino cast and this is what really spoke to me.

I loved the story and the music of the show, but my two strongest memories of the evening have very little to do with those aspects. First, I remember the character of Camila, played at my performance by Priscilla Lopez. From the moment she walked on stage I thought I was looking at one of my tías. Her appearance, her mannerisms, her words, everything was so blessedly familiar that I felt like I instantly knew and loved her.

Second, I remember in the song “Carnaval del Barrio”, in which the characters sing of the countries they came from. When they got to the line “Alza la bandera, la bandera Mexicana” and a character unfurled the Mexican flag, the sheer joy and warmth that shot from my heart brought tears to my eyes.

Believe me, I was shocked by my reaction. Something as small as hearing my country’s name and seeing its flag raised in pride had me in tears, and it didn’t make sense to me because only very recently had I even begun to truly identify with that part of my heritage. There was something in that moment that filled a need I didn’t even know I had, and then I had to think about how much more meaningful that kind of representation must be to people who are aware of that need; people who have identified their whole lives as minorities and never seen their stories and cultures celebrated by actors who looked and talked and acted like them and their families.

This is why so many people are crying out for stories told by some viewpoint other than that of a white man. It’s not that we don’t enjoy them or can’t relate to them; it’s that we don’t want to have to see the story and think “This reminds me of my life”; we want to see the characters and say “This is my life”.

In the Heights gave me some of the greatest gifts in the way it expanded my cultural understanding and my own sense of self, and I think it is wonderful that I had this experience watching a piece of theatre. I hope that everyone reading this piece has the opportunity to experience something as affirming as I did that night in any given medium, but I especially hope that you get the opportunity to experience it live on stage.

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4 thoughts on “Theatre Thursdays: How I Learned Representation Matters

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