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  • Oluwaseun Olowo-Ake

Breathe: ‘In The Heights’ Addressing my Emotions

Updated: Jan 17


In the Heights (2021) - IMDb
In The Heights Poster © "In The Heights" (2021) Warner Bros. Pictures

In The Heights is the 2021 movie adaptation of the 2005 stage play by Lin-Manuel Miranda the great (how I might be addressing him from now on, at this point) and the 2005 book written by Quiara Alegría Hudes. It stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smits; and tells the story of some members of the predominantly Latino Washington Heights community of New York and their struggles with pursuing their dreams.


Guys, I don’t cry at movies that often, but this movie left me emotional for days after I saw it.

It focuses a lot on the story of immigrants/children of immigrants and while I cannot relate to everything the characters go through on their journeys, I found that it highlighted a question I’ve asked myself multiple times in the last year: “yeah, I have these great opportunities, but at what cost?”


It was really interesting seeing the juxtaposition of the feelings of the young people who grew up in the US and how they almost romanticize life in their home countries, and that of their parents who willingly gave up so much to leave their countries and work so hard to remain in the US. Interesting, because I see this play out in real life all the time. Just this week, I had two separate conversations with people from Nigeria. One of them was raised here and seemed fascinated with life at home, asking me what it’s like and which country I prefer, eventually telling me that he would like to move back to see if he could hack it and “make a change”. The other person moved here with his family four years ago, and told me how much he loves this country, how things are really hard at home, how it’s only nice when you go and visit family and friends. I’ve seen this dichotomy even in my own life. Even though I was born and raised in Nigeria, I’ve never experienced it as an adult; I don’t know what it’s like to earn money or take care of a family at home. I say that to note that my view of home is very much impacted by this fact. I’ve had major bouts of homesickness for a while now and have legitimately asked myself, “should I just move back?” but then I speak to my friends and they tell me really strongly, “just stay where you are.”

I think there’s a part of our emotional well-being that we sometimes overlook or are not aware of when we’re chasing any dream/goal, and I would argue that that neglect is exacerbated when you leave your home and loved ones for those dreams. I wasn’t aware that part of me was something I had to take care of until I’d spent years away from home. On the outside, and on one side of my brain, I tell myself to be thankful: you’re here, you have a job, you’re alive and well, and I really truly am, but on the other hand, there’s how I’m doing emotionally- the part that is fed by community, by support from people you hold dearest. My theory is that just being in close proximity with those people helps a lot, because I can say ‘well, we have technology and the internet’ but I can also say from experience, it’s not the same.


I think this influences Nina’s (Leslie Grace) story in the movie and is captured in her song, ‘Breathe‘ (have I cried to this song multiple times? Yes). Nina has gone off to University, the first one in her family to do so, but has returned and is secretly struggling with how to tell her community that she wants to drop out because she had to hide parts of herself at school. She feels they will be disappointed in her because she is “the one who made it out” and “they are all counting on [her] to succeed” but tells herself, “maybe I should have just stayed home.”

4 Ways Nina Rosario from In The Heights Resembles Children of Immigrants |  by Anu Kumar | Writers' Blokke | Jul, 2021 | Medium
Nina © "In The Heights" (2021) Warner Bros. Pictures

I remember watching and thinking some of our parents will probably go, “these children are so emotional. Just get on with it, that’s what we did” and I’d say, yeah we probably are. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I mean, if the emotions are there, they’re there innit? I think what’s worse is pretending they don’t exist. Before you know it, someone says “hey, how are you?” and you’re sobbing, but you don’t know why. I had days before I knew what it was I was feeling where I would leave a gathering of people on the verge of tears, thinking what is going on with me? So if you need to have a cry session, go on ahead. Sometimes, just expressing yourself in that way makes you feel so much better.


I think also naming those feelings is good because it helps you realise what you want. There are things I thought I wanted to do that I’m so glad I didn’t because I know I would be so frustrated right now. My time, especially this past year, has helped me realise ‘this is what I want my life to be‘ and that helps me plan towards that, or guard against the opposite from happening to the best of my ability. Also, I’m a person of faith. Recently, I’ve realised that God doesn’t expect me to just brave situations I’m in and pretend I’m okay with them. I’ve learned to literally cry to Him and let Him know what I’m feeling, and I have faith that He’s going to work it all out (Cue ‘Paciencia y Fe‘, also from this soundtrack).


No lie, I’ve had many heart palpitations just going through this, and have cried those full on sobs. You know, the ones that little kids cry when they get hurt that leave them gasping for air. What do I do in those moments while I wait? (and you know what I’m about to say),


Just what the song title says.

6 fun facts you may not know about 'In the Heights' | Seattle Refined
© "In The Heights" (2021) Warner Bros. Pictures

‘In The Heights’ is available to rent on YouTube and Amazon, and is still showing in some theatres, so check it out.


Credit to WB for the pictures, I don’t own them.

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