Feed on

I will stop my love affair with Lin-Manuel Miranda one of these days, I swear. However, today is not that day.

After listening to his current work, Hamilton, about a million times in a row, I went in search of his previous stuff and found In the Heights. I enjoy the stories it tells of people’s lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, which is why I’ve already featured two of them on this page. (See the first discussion here.) My affection for the song “Patience Y Fe,” however, goes beyond mere enjoyment. It tells a whole story inside its three minute length, simultaneously separate and connected to the rest of the musical. It reminded me of the power that good stories have to wake us up to our own hearts.

At this point, I feel the need to warn you: musical theatre people do not entirely understand what you mean by “Spoiler Alerts.” When we hear about a good show, we all go and find the music, listen to it ad nauseum and have it memorized by the time we get to see it live. Then we sit in the theatre and chew on our lower lip to avoid singing along. The idea that one should walk into a theatre and experience the ending of the story for the first time very seldom enters a musical theatre fan’s mind.

Thus, if you’d ever like to see In the Heights and be surprised by the events that take place, you should stop reading now.

Now that we have that out of the way…

This week’s piece, “Paciencia Y Fe,” (Patience and Faith) steals the first act of the show, in my opinion. Up until this point, we’ve learned little about Claudia, except that she pretty much raised the main character, Usnavi, and she seems to be an honorary abuela (grandmother) to everyone in the neighborhood. In many stories, considering that she’s female and not twenty-two, that would remain our sole knowledge, but In the Heights treats us to more for a change. The women in this musical have their own agendas, and problems far beyond “Does this guy like me?” Just before this song, the entire cast except Claudia sings a number explaining what they’d do on the off chance they won $96,000 in the local lottery. Then, Claudia tells us about her life growing up in Cuba, moving to the U.S., and what her mother wanted for her. Don’t worry, when you get to the end of the song, you’ll understand the segue.

Calor! Calor! Calor!
Calor! Calor! Calor!
Ay Mama!
The summer’s hottest day
Paciencia y fe
Paciencia y fe
Ay carajo, it’s hot!
But that’s okay
Mama would say,
“Paciencia y fe”
It was hotter at home in La Vibora
The Washington Heights of Havana
A crowded city of faces the same as mine
Back as a child in La Vibora
I chased the birds in the plaza
Praying, Mama, you would find work
Combing the stars in the sky for some sort of sign
Ay, Mama, so many stars in Cuba
En Nueva York we can’t see beyond our streetlights
To reach the roof you gotta bribe the supa
Ain’t no cassiopia in Washington Heights
But ain’t no food in La Vibora
I remember nights, anger in the streets, hunger at the windows
Women folding clothes, playing with my friends in the summer rain
Mama needs a job, Mama says we’re poor, one day you say, “Vamos a Nueva York”
And Nueva York was far, but Nueva York had work, and so we came
And now I’m wide awake
A million years too late
I talk to you, imagine what you’d do
Remembering what we went through
Nueva York! Ay Mama!
It wasn’t like today, you’d say,
“Paciencia y fe

Paciencia y fe

Paciencia y fe.”

Paciencia y –

Fresh off the boat in America
Freezing in early December
A crowded city in 1943
Learning the ropes in America
En espanol I remember
Dancing with Mayor Laguardia
All of society welcoming Mami and me! Ha!

You better clean this mess!

Paciencia y fe…

You better learn ingles!

Paciencia y fe…

You better not be late
You better pull your weight
Are you better off then you were with the birds of La Vibora?

Sharing double beds, trying to catch a break, struggling with English
Listening to friends, finally got a job working as a maid
So we cleaned some homes, polishing with pride, scrubbing the whole of the upper east side
The days into weeks, the weeks into years, and here I stayed

Paciencia y fe…
Paciencia y fe…
Paciencia y fe…

And as I fed these birds
My hands begin to shake
And as I say these words
My heart’s about to break
And ay Mama
What do you do when your dreams come true?
I’ve spent my life inheriting dreams from you
What do I do with this winning ticket?
What can I do but pray?
I buy my loaf of bread
Continue with my day
And see you in my head
Imagining what you’d say
The birds, they fly away
Do they fly to La Vibora?
Alright, Mama, Okay.
Paciencia y fe!

Calor! Calor Calor!

As usual, I don’t own the rights to this song. I want to introduce you to the music in the hopes that you’ll buy it for yourself, but if I’m intruding on someone’s treasure, please let me know and I’ll take it down.

Listen to the song for the first time just to hear Claudia’s life story. It’s entertaining and instructive. Claudia doesn’t tell her story to make a political point about immigration. She shares it to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and with the lottery money she just won.

A couple of interesting things about this character and this musical – the songs don’t tell us that Claudia ever got married or gave birth to children of her own. We know she lives in Washington Heights, a neighborhood the characters reference as a place you “get out of.” She’s in her seventies, and her big dream is to go back to the not-so-great neighborhood she knew as a child in Cuba, which she doesn’t get to do, because she passes away first. (I warned you about that spoiler thing.) In another show, this would be a character of comic relief, someone we laugh at or even pity.

Not here.

When she dies in the second act, the entire cast mourns for this woman. It takes three songs for them to deal with losing her. (Okay, one of them is short, but the other two aren’t.) When Usnavi decides to do something different with the money than Claudia wanted him to, he feels the need to explain how he is actually honoring her memory with his choice. This is a woman whose life changed the lives of everyone around her.

Listen to the song again, and you hear echoes of Dorothy’s journey in The Wizard of Oz. Claudia has been to the Emerald City, she won the ruby slippers (silver, if you’d rather think of the book version) and now she realizes that she had the power all along. What will she do first? Buy the loaf of bread she intended to buy before she won. Continue with her day. Later, she’ll celebrate with Usnavi, her family. Even when she dies, you don’t get the feeling that she felt cheated of anything. She knows her life was worthwhile.

I’ll admit, as a single woman with no kids, I can relate to this particularly well, but I think Claudia’s story speaks for a lot of us. For all the people who’ve come here from other countries and worked hard, only to be looked at with suspicion. For all the teachers who are tired of explaining why they chose such a low-paying profession. For the artists asked for the millionth time when they’re going to get a real job. For the full-time parents who go to their spouse’s work mixers and watch people’s eyes glaze over when they answer the question, “So what do you do?”

Society turns its collective head for those who draw money, lust or power. Claudia is 0 for 3. Even amongst her beloved neighborhood family, you wouldn’t describe her as powerful. But she lived her life the best she knew how, with patience for her circumstances and faith in something greater, and in the end she wins. Not because she holds the winning ticket, but because of how she reacts to winning, by going on with the life she had already built.

I want things in my life, and I won’t stop working for them. But I build the substance of my life in each small decision I make, every day. What I really want is a life where the big prizes – the best-selling novel, the million Twitter followers, even the perfect mate – don’t form the foundation to my existence, but make nice additions to an already pleasant place.

Kimberly is still working on those nice additions, but she’s got a good start on the good foundation.





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