In my brain, I've got folders in which I file stuff. Some are memories that need to be tucked away for safe keeping. Others are within reach for easy retrieval: what meeting is when, what activities my daughter's got going on or when which bills are due.
Still, there is another folder that holds memories or experiences that pack too much punch to process immediately, like the few years around my mom's sickness and subsequent death, and more recently, our family's trip to Missouri to retrace the steps of tragedy that eventually led to my great-grandparents' resettling to here in Milwaukee.
The most recent addition to that folder is the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's performance of In The Heights.
When I went, all I knew is that I needed distance from our bonkers reality as well as its effect on my emotional health. Given that the musical centered on residents of The Heights who are mostly Hispanic/LatinX -- many immigrants or first generation -- there couldn't be a wider distance between my reality as a Milwaukee-born black woman married to a white guy and mom to a biracial daughter.
We met Nina. She was back for summer break from an Ivy League school. She's her family's bright and shining star who puts on a good face for her family and her neighborhood, but deep down, she feels like a failure because despite scholarships, she's dropped out of college.
|Nina and Benny. Their relationship is, as the kids say, Goals.|
Photo Credit: Michael Broslilow
I knew Nina, and sometimes I am Nina. No, I'd never gone to or dropped out of an Ivy League school, but I know what it's like to fall short of successes that others dreamed for me. I ached for her and cheered for her.
We met Nina's immigrant dad Kevin. He's a guy desperate to do whatever he can to make sure his daughter has a different, easier life than his own. I knew him too.
I'm a mom who will scratch, work three jobs and do consecutive backflips down the middle of a busy street if that's what it'll take to make sure my daughter's life is richer, smoother, unhindered by racism and more confident than my own. I wanted to hug Kevin, weep alongside him and tell him I understand.
And then we met Abuela Claudia who has a humor and wisdom that only age can bring. It reached from the stage and touched me as I sat mesmerized in the sold-out theater. I listened to her soaring vocals and wondered about all she might have seen in her younger years. Then from time to time, she'd talk about life back in Puerto Rico and remembered the past for her neighbors in The Heights.
|Abuela Claudia and Usnavi.. He's so lucky to have her in his life.|
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow
I got a catch in my throat because she's the grandmother I wish I could've known. Her immigration story made me reflect on my family's trek from Missouri to Milwaukee.
By the show's end, I could see myself as a version of her in a future life, telling my stories to my grandkids, my neighbors or anyone who will listen.
There are times when opening some folders feel like too much for me to process. But this performance, with its joy and hope despite the characters' day-to-day struggles is worth opening up and reliving from time to time.
|The awesome, joyful cast of an awesome joyful show.|
In The Heights runs through October 28 at the Quadracci Powerhouse.
You gotta see it. Click here for tickets. You'll be glad you did.