The Puerto Rican flag highlights the intense pride of Boricuas in their culture and heritage. Never forgetting where you came from, La Isla de Encanta, stays within the hearts of all Puerto Ricans, even those in the diaspora. A famous Puerto Rican, Lin-Manuel Miranda, transformed this pride into a musical about Latinos. In the Heights, perpetuates the pride of being Puerto Rican, and the pride of Latinos in general, with an emotional story line and moving lyrics. Both the Flag and the Musical present commonplaces and pathos to connect to Puerto Ricans, as well as any person with ears, compelling them to engage civically within their communities and elsewhere. This connection can not be stopped by a docile federal government nor a destructive hurricane.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the eyes of a migrant. A person, full of dreams, in a world where dreams are crushed everyday. However, you turn your eyes towards a land across the waves, a land where dreams supposedly come true. You see New York City across the waves. Lady Liberty beckons you with her torch and proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Millions of people before you, as will millions of people after you, look at this statue as a promise. This unbreakable promise of a better life where you can create a legacy by passing down your story through your posterity. Never lacking in faith, you deem this the greatest triumph. This idea is the plight of the Puerto Rican.
Lin-Manuel Miranda realized this when inscribing those papers that held the words from In the Heights like a bassinet cradles a baby.
To comprehend the similarities between the Puerto Rican flag and In the Heights, it is necessary to gain a basic knowledge of both.
The Puerto Rican flag was created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to represent the people on the island of Puerto Rico. It encompasses the passions and dreams of the relatively subjugated people on the island and their descendants on the mainland United States. The most important part of the flag lies in the star, which represents the island, which is left out of the United States flag, even though it is apart of the country.
Meanwhile, the show takes place in the Hispanic community of Washington Heights in New York City, specifically Manhattan. The main character, Usnavi desires to return to his birth-country, the Dominican Republic, to open up a bar and serve margaritas until he dies. Sadly, he is also in love with Vanessa, a beauty parlor stylist who will never leave New York City. Adding to the complicated love story, is the star-crossed lovers: Benny and Nina. Coming from different worlds, their love is complicated and forbidden by Nina’s father. Another subplot is the story of Abuela Claudia, who just won a lottery ticket for $96,000. Overall, the musical depicts the stories of immigrants through song and dance.
Throughout the musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda utilizes universal motifs: family, love, and strife that shapes us all. In that same manner, the Puerto Rican flag does the same. It symbolizes the struggle in face of adversity and the love of family that can triumph over it.
Never in all of history have two different objects displayed this tale of humankind like the Puerto Rican Flag and Miranda’s Musical. Throughout the musical, Miranda writes different lyrics that depict this story flawlessly.
“The way they whispered to each other about the warmer winter weather, inseparable, even got sick together. They never got better, passed away the December, and left me with these memories like dying embers from a dream I can’t remember. Ever since then it’s like another day deeper in debt with different dilemmas…abuela I don’t know how I can keep it together….Remember the story of your name…the day your family came.“
Everyone, no matter what color, creed, or culture, can identify with the existential crisis Miranda depicts here. Why did our ancestors leave their home country and come here (United States)? What are we defined by? Should we assimilate into the mainstream culture or salvage the leftovers of our own? Miranda suggests to seek wisdom from our abuelas, our grandmothers; after all, their white hairs symbolize wisdom, not age.
This compliments the ideas portrayed by the Puerto Rican flag. After centuries of interracial marriages and culture clash, Puerto Ricans struggle with their identities. Are they Native Americans (Taíno specifically), African American, or Spainard? The answer: a mixture of all. However, the confusion does not stop there. For if you belong in the Diaspora, are you really Puerto Rican? If you have never drank coquito (alcoholic beverage) in Carolina (city in Puerto Rico) during Christmas or heard the coquí, (frog) croak during the night, are you really Puerto Rican? All these quandaries have pestered the Puerto Rican people for generations. In the end, the true identity does not matter because all Puerto Ricans are family, just like Miranda suggests.
Later on in the musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda drops another seemingly commonplace idea:
” Everything is easier when you’re home.“
Obviously, any sane human loves their home. The old adage differentiates a house from a home. A house is a structure; a home is that plus the love inside. Even if you are hundreds of miles away, or down the road, humans, no matter who they are, desire to return to the familiarity of home at the end of the day.
This intense passion for the security of a familiar location is transcended to Puerto Ricans. The desire of many Puerto Ricans to visit Puerto Rico is underlined in the exhalation of the Puerto Rican flag. The star on the flag symbolizes the island from which the Diaspora originates; thus, all desire to stand on the white beaches and listen to the coquí, sing once again.
Yet again, Lin-Manuel Miranda poses another common thought: what would have happened if my forefathers stayed where they were.
“When I was younger I’d imagine what would happen if my parents had stayed in Puerto Rico. Who would I be if I had never seen Manhattan? If I lived in Puerto Rico with my people, my people…working harder, learning Spanish, learning all I can.”
Clearly, these lyrics can also be expanded to include any number of races and ethnicities. With so many diverse groups in New York, Miranda expands the questioning of cultural identity to everyone there.
However, the musical specifically states Puerto Rico. This idea is one of the strongest connections between the musical and the flag. Puerto Ricans in the diaspora struggle with identity, some not knowing Spanish, seeking to find their place in the world. What would have happened if our parents stayed in Puerto Rico? This idea further connects with the general populace as well, since human thinking tends to fall to the pondering of “what-ifs”.
In the second act, Lin-Manuel Miranda connects the two objects, the lyrics and the flag, with incredible ease.
“Alza la bandera, la bandera dominicana! Alza la bandera, la bandera puertorriqueña! Alza la bandera, la bandera mexicana! Alza la bandera, la bandera cubana! Pa’ribba esa bandera! álzala donde quiera! Recuerdo de mi tierra! Me acuerdo de mi tierra! Esa bonita bandera! Contiene mi alma entera! Y cuando yo me muera, entiérrame en mi tierra. From Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo wherever we go we rep our people and the beat goes!”
[Raise the flag, the Dominican flag! Raise the flag, the Puerto Rican flag! Raise the flag, the Mexican flag. Raise the flag, the Cuban flag! Raise that flag where you want! Memory of my land, I remember my land! That beautiful flag! It contains my entire soul! And when I die, bury me in my land. From Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo wherever we go we rep our people and the beat goes!]
By emphasizing the flag through written word, he compliments the meaning of both. In raising the flag, the lyrics dictate its importance. Wherever the flag’s people go, the flag, and all the sentiments surrounding it, also go. Through these words he describes the plight of the Puerto Rican, and by default, everyone else.
Overall, the commonplaces established by both the Puerto Rican flag and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights are one in the same. Telling a story of triumph, tragedy, and family, both artifacts dictate the importance of something to call your own, whether it be a flag or a home away from home. The pathos connected to the Puerto Rican flag is underlined by the musical’s lyrics and scenes. However, this is not to say that the musical only extols the Puerto Rican flag. Afterall, the musical’s wide ranging spectrum of inclusivity ends up applying to all people, of all flags.
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Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46550/the-new-colossus.
Miranda, Lin-Manuel. “In the Heights- A New Musical.” New York City, Broadway.
Rivera, Magaly. “Puerto Rico’s Flag.” Welcome to Puerto Rico!, 2017, welcome.topuertorico.org/reference/flag.shtml.