In the Heights

The movie tells the story of an immigrant community coming together to forge its own future through commerce.


In the Heights, a movie musical based on the hit Broadway production by Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, is set in the heavily Dominican New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. At heart, it's the story of an immigrant community coming together to determine its own future.

Sometimes that future is forged by fighting with a labyrinthine immigration bureaucracy and racist attitudes. (There's an admittedly too on-the-nose subplot about DREAMers.) But politics are only part of the story.

By and large, In the Heights portrays immigration as an entrepreneurial act. So it is fitting that the community's future is forged through commerce. The plot concerns a neighborhood bodega, but there's also a salon run by two neighborhood women, a taxi dispatch run by another local, a friendly lawyer who handles tough immigration cases, and even a piragua cart run by a character played by Miranda.

These businesses are consistently portrayed as sources of both hard-earned personal wealth and valuable social connection, especially when the neighborhood faces a crisis—a power outage—late in the second act. Charging people money in exchange for useful services, and keeping those services going in tough times, is how the characters make their own lives better and how they help their neighbors.

The movie doesn't quite bang you over the head with this message, but it's not subtle, either: The final, post-credits scene shows Miranda's street-cart shaved ice becoming a hot commodity with the block's residents. In response to rising demand, he raises prices, and in the process he outcompetes the Mister Softee truck that had been his biggest rival. It's an entrepreneurial immigrant success story and a fitting grace note for a movie that ebulliently celebrates the value of communities built on buying and selling.