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Student Blog: 'I'm Coming Back Home'

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In The Heights and What It Means to Grow Up

Student Blog: 'I'm Coming Back Home'
PC: Warner Bros. Pictures

My first trip back to the movie theater since January 2020 was two weeks ago to see In The Heights. I was expecting my return to the movies to be a roller coaster-at risk of sounding cliché, the big screen has always been a grateful escape for me. What I wasn't expecting was to be floored by something beyond a reasonable level of emotion before the opening number had even finished.

Was it the euphoria of the overpriced popcorn and surround sound? Was it a longing for the New York on the screen-untouched by disease; people crammed into tiny apartments without fearing the air they breathe? Was it the sheer joy of watching a song-and-dance routine for the first time in what feels like decades?

Sure; all that and more. It's not difficult to see how any pandemic-ravaged brain would react so viscerally to the filmed-in-2019 exuberance of In The Heights. But as I drove home through the summer night back toward real life, feeling the trance of the silver screen slowly fade away, I knew there was something more gnawing on the back of my mind.

At its heart, In The Heights is about home; and although only one of the many interwoven plotlines revolves around college, I couldn't help but think about how strongly my experience as a college student aligned with the conflicts of these characters who are so vastly different from me.

Lin-Manuel Miranda began writing the first iteration of In The Heights in college when he was my age. Like me, he also left his home to go to college, beginning a new phase of life in a place removed from that stifling, welcoming incubator of home. Now, I'm not trying to put myself in the shoes of the man who is one of the most successful creatives of our age. My experiences and Miranda's are obviously disparate-he hails from Manhattan, I'm from the emptiest corner of Pennsylvania; he has several Tony awards, I can't carry a tune to save my life.

But in the story of In The Heights, there is both an inherent longing for home and a nagging question of what makes a place a home to begin with. Usnavi believes his home is in the Dominican Republic, even though he has spent the majority of his life in Washington Heights. Vanessa can't wait to hop on the elevator train and live downtown. Nina thought that her destiny was waiting for her out west but now finds herself back in the neighborhood of her childhood. In the end, In The Heights definitively answers the question it poses-home sometimes isn't a fantasy. It's people who love you and a place that you love just as much.

Often, home is a place that we don't realize we miss until we have to leave it. I know that I have never felt more strongly attached to where I'm from than now, when the total time I spend there has morphed from a daily slog through grey, stifling streets to sun-drenched weekends back amongst my hills. Much like the characters struggling to piece together their identities in In The Heights, and much like-I suspect-Miranda himself at the time of writing this story, I have never felt more pride in my hometown than now, in my young adulthood. Perhaps it's because college sometimes feels like a constant circuit of being asked where you're from and defending your answer.

Perhaps it's because it's beginning to sink in that I've actually left, just like I said I would. Maybe it's part of a grander realization that, even though the world is my oyster and I will, with any luck, go far and wide across this planet we call home, I will always be inexplicably tied to a little broken-down, rusty tack on the map full of more stories and hopes and dreams than I could ever begin to wrap my head around.

In the aftermath of watching In The Heights, one final thought crossed my mind. This time, a glimmer of hope. With any luck, a manifestation. I thought of Miranda one more time and imagined for a second what it must be like to watch a story that you wrote, a story about that place so near and dear to your heart, be splashed across IMAX screens across the world. To bear witness as it worms its ways into the hearts and minds of millions. To grin with pride as you watch the lights go up on Washington Heights once more. I can only imagine what that must feel like.

For now.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Sydney Emerson