“Spanish-speaking culture truly unites all these people, even though in the show they’re from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc. It’s really important that it shows those cultures, and it’s really important that it shows racism within a specific marginalized community,” she said. Miranda, who was criticized for colorism in the film adaptation of the show, tackled the issue of anti-Blackness that is prevalent in the Latinx community of the musical. It happens most directly in the relationship between Nina Rosario, a Puerto Rican college student, and Benny, a Black taxi dispatcher working for Nina’s father, who must struggle with the older man’s racism.
It was those conversations on identity both on stage and off that have fascinated “theater kid” Mara Sims. The 19-year-old first-year said she views identities as an inherent and automatic part of the individual. But Miller’s view that identities are a performance led Sims to think about the concept in a new way, she said.
“When I say we’re always performing our identities, I draw attention to the fact that who we are is a product of what we do,” Miller explained. “Our individual performances are also always framed by expectations about us, which include expectations based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, etc.”
While leading students to think critically about representation on Broadway, Miller is up front about his personal experiences as a white man, students said. Morejon also noted his willingness to learn as much from students as he’s hoping to teach them. “I think it’s really valuable to have somebody like that as the professor for a course like this,” she said.
For his part, Miller has been impressed with how his students approach the complex discussions on identity and representation. “They all arrive with a set of instincts about what authentic and ethical representation looks like, and those instincts vary wildly,” he said. “I learn a lot simply from hearing everyone think through the implications of the works we discuss, being reminded of how what seems obvious to me is, in fact, far from obvious to another student.”