Staff Pick: West Side Story
Written by Julia, Director of Education
Growing up in the South Bronx, I looked forward to watching the movie version of West Side Story, which was aired on TV, once a year. I would revel in the music, dance and most of all, the tragic love story that reinforced a message that my parents had experienced as they first arrived in the US and that I and my siblings experienced throughout childhood although we were born in the US, “stick to your own kind”.
With every yearly viewing, you could chart the development of my identity and ensuing critical analysis of the representation of Puerto Ricans in the arts and media. From “so happy to see someone that looked like me and my family on the little screen” to “identifying with the struggle to carve out a safe space in the community where I could be myself, free from discrimination.” As I grew, I became conscious of the challenges of the Puerto Rican experience in the United States contrasted with the experience on the island. I was frustrated with the constant barrage of negative images of Puerto Ricans and working class people. “America” from West Side Story exemplifies the Puerto Rican and overall immigrant discourse around the promises of the “American dream” and the reality of nations divided.
Eventually, West Side Story would no longer be available to me on TV. Nevertheless it would serve as “The” story that we could refer to, when addressing issues around migration, the complexity of the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans born in the US as opposed to those born on the island, race, class, violence as a solution to conflict, and the overall human condition.
The premiere of the Kimmel Center Broadway production of West Side Story offers a new opportunity for gathering knowledge. Educators and students of all ages & backgrounds can engage in a dialogue regarding themes of this iconic story that continue to play out in the US conscience. It is also a unique opportunity to be able to hear the Puerto Rican characters speak and sing in Spanish as well as English; an additional and ever present issue. I invite you to take advantage of this opportunity as I will to revisit this story that continues to have an impact on my work!
National Tour of West Side Story Photo by Joan Marcus.
Note: West Side Story runs March 27 - April 8 at the Academy of Music. Tickets and information.