Cultural Diversity in the Neighborhood Essay
Sitting in a dark theatre, an audience begins to rustle in their seats with excitement, anxiously awaiting the start of the show - Cultural Diversity in the Neighborhood Essay introduction. The lights dim and the anticipation are diminished as the lights come up, the set of a street side unveils, and the beat begins. In one instant, the audience is transported from a simple theatre to the lively street-side of the neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York. This production is the 2008 Tony-winning “Best Musical” In the Heights.
Written and composed by Lin Manuel Miranda, the show combines hip-hop and rap music with a variety of dancing styles to portray the life in the barrio of the immigrant filled neighborhood of Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York. By watching the show, the audience experiences the struggles of life, which include dropping out of college, failing to pay rent, losing loved ones, and living within a world where immigrants and the poor do not have power.
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The musical demonstrates how communities of immigrants live their lives to promote positive identity for their cultural background by establishing pride within ones race. In the Heights is a cultural representation of how acceptance into American Culture is not done by total assimilation but rather through promotion of cultural diversity within a neighborhood. In the Heights presents the culture and social problems of the community of Washington Heights as they try and solve their problems of assimilation.
To begin the show, a hip-hop themed music number introduces each “mom and pop store” on the street and describes how life is bustling with business as everyone runs around town doing what needs to be done. The plot begins with the story of Nina, the first girl to go to college from the barrio, as she tells her parents how she failed to handle her full course load and her two part-time jobs causing her to drop out of college. In response, her father, Kevin, decides to sell his taxi company in order to pay for her tuition.
By selling the company, Kevin puts many people out of work which initiates the first transformation of the street life. Since less people are going to be visiting the neighborhood without Kevin’s business, Daniela’s Hair Salon and Usnavi’s Corner Store face miserable loses and are on the verge of closing. The culture of the Barrio seems to be diminishing with the loss of the stores and as a result, they celebrate the Fourth of July at the club as one last night together. During the celebration, a blackouts strikes the city and the Barrio is left powerless.
Violence spreads throughout the neighborhood as Usnavi’s Corner Store is broken into and destroyed. As a way to raise the spirits, the citizens have a “Carnival del Barrio” which embraces their cultures and allows them to realize their diversity. The Carnival also brings the community closer together making them recognize that they can thrive amongst themselves without the help of others to create their own “power” and fun. After the Carnival, Usnavi realizes he won $96,000 in the lottery and decides that he is going to sell his store to return to his homeland of the Dominican Republic.
At this point in the show, everyone recognizes that within three days, life in Washington Heights has truly changed as the cultural stores and important influential leaders of the community are moving. In response, the community decides to repair Usnavi’s Corner Store with hope to keep the community alive. Usnavi is convinced that their culture is still alive and that he must stay in the Heights so he can carry on the community’s identity by sharing his wisdom of the streets to the Barrio.
The essential piece to fully understanding the cultural changes in In the Heights is to understand the neighborhood that is being expressed through the work. Spanning on the Northern Tip of Manhattan, the neighborhood of Washington Heights has been a cultural neighborhood since the early 1900s, when a large influx of Irish Immigrants populated the city. Since those times, the neighborhood has gone through multiple transitions of racial dominance Jews, Greeks, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. (Fernandez) During the 1980s, Washington Heights underwent its largest culture change, becoming largely populated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic.
The Dominicans brought their culture to Manhattan as a “Little Dominican Republic” was created. The Heights soon brought on the reputation as being “the centre of New York’s crack cocaine trade” which made it a dangerous place to live (Dicker 9). This reputation remained until the late 1990s when urban renewal projects were initiated to improve the image and decrease the amount of violence within the neighborhood. As time progressed, the Heights maintained a cultural identity of Dominican as over 50 percent of the population was Dominican.
Today, Washington Heights is losing this cultural identity and life of the city that it has had for decades as rents continue to increase and force economic struggles upon the community. By understanding the culture that exists within American society today, it is more easily understood what it means to assimilate. Since the discovery of the nation, the United States has been a melting pot of all races and ethnicities as immigrants migrate all over the world to live in this country. People in American society rarely identify themselves as purely American.
They often identify themselves as African-American, Asian-American, and Mexican-American to clarify that they have not totally abandoned their heritage and culture. In In the Heights, Usnavi celebrates his migrancy by proudly stating that he comes “from the greatest little place in the Caribbean, Dominican Republic” (Miranda). Usnavi takes pride for his country and flaunts to the audience about his heritage. In the past, this pride of the native land never would have occurred for those who boasted about being immigrants were often profiled and treated differently.
This change is essential in understanding how immigrants are able to more easily accept American culture by allowing a piece of their own culture stay within them which helps identify the feeling of community within the neighborhood better. In Susan Dicker’s article about the transitional community within the Dominican culture in Washington Heights, Dicker argues that complete assimilation for all immigrants into American culture is highly unlikely which causes cultural diversity.
Immigrants, who move to a different place with a pre-established sense of culture and identity, maintain an attitude to refute the new culture in order to maintain theirs (Dicker 13). People do not like to fully submit themselves to assimilation because in order to do so, they must give up their own culture and accept another that is not truly theirs. The cultural ties experienced at an early age are never easily lost and therefore remain within the population. Another reason why assimilation does not occur is that immigrants usually must learn a new language, which is difficult at old age.
Accepting and learning the new language takes extensive work and effort which is rarely achieved because there is not enough time and will to do so. Therefore, immigrants rightfully exclude themselves from complete assimilation into society by bringing their own culture and language from their homes into American culture . Child immigrants who know no difference between cultures have an easier time assimilating completely into society; but, luckily, they also feel a need to retain their cultural background.
In Dicker’s case study of Dominican Immigrants, a woman named Xiomara was questioned about how her life changed when she was forced to move from the Dominican Republic to the US. Xiomara who was able to learn English through school but never fully learned Spanish, replied “I wanted to learn and speak, I mean learn and write, in Spanish ‘cause it’s part of who I am. So in sixth grade I taught myself how to read. ” (Dicker 8). Even though Xiomara had grown up into American culture, she recognized her parent’s pride for the Dominican Republic and its culture and felt obligated to learn Spanish.
This obligation is necessary for cultures to remain present in society so that the identity is never lost and the neighborhood maintains a central unit of identity. Through the its upbeat rhythm and ethnic form of style and dance, In the Heights proves to other forms of performance that conforming to American culture is best experienced by withholding cultural roots. The style of music and song that Lin Manuel Miranda composed would not have been possible if he had not remained fully aware of his Dominican background. It is through the musical that relates to all areas of life that makes this musical an American musical.
American society’s existence in the world today would not be the same without the culturally diverse groups of people refusing to give up their cultural pride to remain loyal to their heritage. The identity of the stereotypical American person cannot simply be expressed as one characteristic. America is what is today due to its diverse neighborhoods and cities that are composed of the various immigrants from all over the world. The American culture thrives on how the community within the Barrios, ghettos, and neighborhoods are structured to provide culturally different backgrounds.
Even though each neighborhood may not be as diverse as another, the diversity within the nation relies on how each individual perceives and expresses the culture. Therefore it does not matter if neighborhoods are integrated and contain diverse sets of culture. What does matter is that the culture is not lost from where we came from and it is passed on through each generation.
Dicker, Susan J. “Dominican Americans in Washington Heights, New York: Language and Culture in a Transnational Community. ” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 9. (2006): 713-727. ERIC. EBSCO. Web. 22 Feb. 2010. Fernandez, Manny. “New Winds at an Island Outpost . ” The New York Times 4 Mar. 2007: n. pag. Web. 23 Feb. 2010. <http://www. nytimes. com/2007/03/04/nyregion/thecity/ 04domi. html? pagewanted=1&_r=1>. Jones, Chris. “‘In the Heights’: Sexy NYC moves just getting warmed up in Chicago. ” Rev. of In the Heights, by Lin Manuel Miranda.
Chicago. Chicago Tribune 16 Dec. 2009: n. pag. Web. 23 Feb. 2010. <http://www. chicagotribune. com/topic/mmx-1217-in-the-heights-chicago-dec16,0,4760226. tory>. Miranda, Lin Manuel. In the Heights. The Fabulous Fox Theatre St. Louis . 12 Nov. 2009. Performance. “Washington Heights . ” Washington Heights & Inwood Online. N. p. , 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2010. <http://www. washington-heights. us/>. Appendix The piece written by Susan Dicker is the main piece of scholarship. This is taken from a scholarly journal about the same subject of the paper. The article by Fernandez was published in the New York Times about the history of Washington Heights and how it is being made a name of itself today.
The review by Jones establishes simple narrative of the play and fundamental themes. The work itself was seen on this date and has been looked upon for help in the paper through the song and lyrics. The Last website is the official website of the Washington Heights neighborhood and therefore should have the closest information of any website about the Heights. Since my cultural text is an actual performance it cannot be included but these websites provide a detailed, correct summary of the play, as well as the lyrics. http://www. intheheightsthemusical. com/