Tell Our Stories!

I haven’t written a blog in a while. I haven't been feeling particularly inspired over the past few months. But this weekend I watched In The Heights. Watching the film made me think about community.

I was lucky enough to be in the Original London Cast in 2014. The show means a lot to me. It was the first principal role I played in London, it was the first time London was seeing this incredible show and it was the first time I got to put my creative stamp on a character. It remains one of the best jobs (if not the best) I’ve done. I remember on day 1 we sat in a circle and we all talked about our individual heritage. It felt important to share our own stories to create our family and community. 

The reason I loved doing the show so much is because it was such a full, shared experience. The theatres we performed in meant that we were always hanging out side of stage if we weren’t on stage. We all shared a dressing room and would sing and vibe before a show. We created our happy place.

Community is something we all crave. I went from the Jewish Community to the Theatre Community and now I float between the two with a sprinkling of Argentine flare. 

Family is also a huge part of a community. Being born into a Jewish family should come with a guidebook explaining how the community is always there to remind you that we have suffered but yet we survived. There is a lot of focus on hard work and education and giving back to society. The countries that we settle in “let us” build communities and therefore it is our job to give back.

In The Heights made me think about the themes in Fiddler on the Roof. 

Latinx people and Jewish people make up so much of the heartbeat of NY and so much of my own family. Displaced communities looking for a place to call home, working hard and striving to create a better life for the next generation. Making sure that whilst we immerse ourselves in secular society, we protect our culture. We follow the story of a changing world and how these communities face so much adversity and yet maintain the strength to keep going. 

We are introduced to the characters in the first song "In The Heights" much like "Tradition,” we see the roles people play within the community. Abuela is the matriarch who brings everyone together. Daniella, Carla and Cuca work in the salon, the salon is like the gossip hub. Anyone else see a Yente in these 3? We see how Tevye and Kevin want the best for their daughters and will do anything to ensure their happiness and protect them. We also see pushback from the younger generations and how it's hard to maintain your culture and heritage in a society that doesn't recognise its beauty. We also see how stepping outside of the comfort of your community can be a daunting and scary thing.

The nature of immigrant culture is you have to work twice has hard just to get a foot in the door and then once you’re in the door, you have to work doubly hard to stay there. 

Nina talks about the prejudice she experiences at university and how she feels “other.” The first time I ever felt “other” was when I was at Drama School. Nina says how she was accused of stealing. I was accused of being “narrow minded” and one who would always live out of my Daddy’s pocket, just because I asked for a night off to be respectful to my parents for a Jewish holiday. (That was said by a tutor I will add). 

We form communities to feel safe with our own people. It’s what makes these stories so relatable.

The reason Jewish people created their own towns in Eastern Europe was to protect themselves against antisemitism. They spoke their own language and created internal businesses. They were eventually forced out due to violent pogroms because for some reason the Russians saw them as an invisible threat.

In “In The Heights,” speaking Spanish is something that helps the community maintain their cultural identity. People have small businesses and help each other. Everyone is popping in and out of each others houses or place of work. Whilst there is no violent pogrom, there is still so much prejudice. The inclusion of being undocumented in the place that you call home was a really excellent addition to the story. You want to give back and make something of yourself, but there is always another hurdle to stop ethnic minorities rising up. 

Everyone has their sueñito. Mine is un sueño mas grande. I want to get out of London, I want to be on Broadway. I want to have it all. I want to make my mark.

I have definitely pushed back against my community. Sometimes it all feels overwhelming, like you're trying to manage the expectations of everyone you know. Some Fridays I want to go out to the theatre or for a drink. I work on Jewish new year because I know I can have a family lunch and then go to the theatre to work. Being a part of secular society is about maintaining your cultural identity whilst also integrating yourself into wider circles. It’s the only way we learn about other people and their stories.

From My Big Fat Greek Wedding, to Bend It Like Beckham to Fiddler on the Roof to In The Heights, as Jule Styne and Bob Merill put it, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." We all need people and occasionally, we need our own people to remind us of who we are and where we came from.

Ultimately, home is where the heart is. Prejudice and discrimination will always be there somewhere along the way, but it’s our traditions that survive. Struggle is all relative and incomparable. Everyone has a story to tell and for me, that was the strongest message from the film. Tell our stories.

I now need to stop being lazy and write mine x

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