Lights Up on Washington Heights: An In the Heights Glossary

Special Features   Lights Up on Washington Heights: An In the Heights Glossary
 
A reference guide to the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, ahead of its release in theatres and HBO Max.

Lights up on Washington Heights, one of the most vibrant Latinx neighborhoods in NYC located in the upper tip of Manhattan, and both the setting for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and the neighborhood he calls home.

Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Tony-winning musical, the film premieres June 11 in theatres and on HBO Max. It will also open the Tribeca Festival June 9 with various screenings around the city.

The movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, and Leslie Grace as Nina. Rounding out the main cast are Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela, Stephanie Beatriz as Carla, Dascha Polanco as Cuca, Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, Marc Anthony as Sonny's father, Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario, and Noah Catala as Graffiti Pete. Miranda, who also produces and wrote an original new song, plays Piraguero, the Washington Heights local who sells flavored ice from a cart.

In The Heights features a screenplay by Hudes and is directed by Jon M. Chu.

Act 1

"In the Heights"
“Piragua” - A piragua is Puerto Rican summer treat shaped like a pyramid, consisting of shaved ice and covered with fruit-flavored syrup. Piraguas are sold by vendors, known as piragüeros, from small pushcarts. Flavors include:

  • "Parcha”: Puerto Rican term for passion fruit.
  • "China": The name used in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic for orange.
  • “Mamey”: A species of tree native to Cuba and Central America, naturally ranging from southern Cuba to southern Costa Rica, plus Mexico, where it is made into milkshakes and ice cream among other foods.

“Abuela” - "Grandmother" in Spanish.

“I got café but no 'con leche'” - café con leche is a Spanish coffee beverage consisting of strong and bold coffee (usually espresso) mixed with scalded milk in approximately a 1:1 ratio. Café con leche is huge in heavily concentrated Cuban areas of Miami, and a way of life in Hispanic households.

“You Must Take the A Train” - "Take the 'A' Train" is a jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn that was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and one of the train lines that goes up to Washington Heights.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and company in In The Heights.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and company of In The Heights. Joan Marcus

“Bodega” - In NYC, a bodega is a small owner-operated convenience store. Its name is derived from the Spanish word for "storeroom." Usually located on street corners, they are renowned for their convivial culture and colorful character, also known as a “mom-and-pop Stop-n-Shop.”

“Barrio” - A Spanish word meaning "quarter" or "neighborhood."

“mom-and-pop Stop & Shop” - Stop & Shop is a chain of supermarkets located in the northeastern United States.

“it’s gotten too darn hot. Like my man Cole Porter said” - “Too Darn Hot” is a song written by Cole Porter for his musical Kiss Me, Kate in 1948.

“But as for mañana” - Mañana is the word for “tomorrow” in Spanish.

“Mi pana” - Pana is a Spanish word that means "buddy" or "pal."

"Breathe"
“As the radio plays old forgotten boleros” - Bolero refers to a genre of sung music originated in eastern Cuba in the late 19th century as part of the trova tradition. This genre gained widespread popularity around Latin America throughout the 20th century, and continues to thrive.

“Just me and the GWB” - GWB refers to the George Washington Bridge, a double-decker suspension bridge spanning the Hudson River, connecting Manhattan with the New Jersey borough of Fort Lee.

"Benny's Dispatch"
“Manny Ramirez is in town this weekend” - Manny Ramirez is a Dominican-American former professional baseball outfielder. And when he’s playing in town—beware the traffic.

"It Won't Be Long Now"
“No pares. Sigue, sigue” - lyrics from the popular song “El Tiburón” by the Dominican band Proyecto Uno.

"No Me Diga"

Andréa Burns, Karen Olivo, Mandy Gonzalez, and Janet Dacal in <i>In the Heights</i>
Andréa Burns, Karen Olivo, Mandy Gonzalez, and Janet Dacal in In the Heights Joan Marcus

“No me diga” - A popular Spanish colloquialism used to express disbelief when told gossip—directly translated to “You don’t say.”

"96,000"
"Keep the bling, I want the brass ring, like Frodo!” - Frodo Baggins is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, and one of the protagonists in The Lord of the Rings.

“Esa pregunta es tricky!” - “Pregunta” is the Spanish word for “question.”

“Just fly me down to Puerto Plata” - Puerto Plata is a province on the northeast coast of Dominican Republic.

“We rock the hot Impala” - The Impala is a full-size car built by Chevrolet. It was the company's flagship passenger car and among the better-selling American-made automobiles in the United States.

"Paciencia y Fé"
“Paciencia y Fé” - The Spanish words for “patience and faith.”

“It was hotter at home in La Víbora” - La Víbora is a ward in Havana, Cuba. Today, it is Havana's most populated barrio.

“Dancing with Mayor La Guardia” - Fiorello Henry La Guardia was the 99th mayor of New York City for three terms from 1934 to 1945.

"When You're Home"

1/9 Subway Lines
1/9 Subway Lines

“And the 1-slash-9, climbed a dotted line to my place. There’s no 9 train now” - The 9 train operated during rush hour on the same tracks as the 1 train and was permanently discontinued in 2005.

“I used to think the Bronx was a place in the sky” - The neighborhood of the Bronx can be found on the northernmost part of the NYC subway map.

“Are we going to Castle Garden?” - Formerly known as Castle Garden, Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton is a circular sandstone fort located in Manhattan's Battery Park.

"The Club"
“Wepa! Vanessa!” - Wepa! is a versatile Latin-American Spanish slang exclamation used to express excitement, congratulations, and joy, similar to the English "That's awesome!"

“To killing the mood. Salud!” / “To doing shots on a weekend. As long as you buy ‘em, L’chaim!” - Salud is an expression that means health and can be used when you toast before drinking (or also after someone sneezes), similar to L’Chaim in Hebrew, which translates to "to life."

"Blackout"
“Vino el apagón” - Apagón is the Spanish word for “blackout,” so this means “the blackout has come.”

Act 2

"Hundreds of Stories"
“There’s a little beach named Playa Rincón” - Playa Rincón is a beach in the Dominican Republic and has been rated as one of the world's three most beautiful beaches, and is said to have been Columbus' point of entry into Hispaniola.

"Carnaval del Barrio"
"Growing up in the hills of Vega Alta” - Vega Alta is a municipality of Puerto Rico, located on the northern coast of the island.

“But oh, the coquito would flow!” - Coquito, meaning "Little Coconut" in Spanish, is a traditional Christmas drink that originated in Puerto Rico.

“As we sang the Aguinaldo” - Aguinaldo is a folk genre of Christmas music in several Latin American countries, based on Spanish Christmas carols or villancicos, which is traditionally sung on Christmas itself or during the holiday season.

“¡Qué bochinche!” - Bochinche means gossip, particularly that which is malicious, spread deliberately with the intention to defame the victim and amuse others.

Andréa Burns in <i>In the Heights</i>
Andréa Burns in In the Heights Joan Marcus

“They can hear us across the bridge in East Secaucus?” - East Secaucus is a New Jersey town located about 13 miles from Washington Heights.

"Finale"
“The hydrants are open. Cool breezes blow…” - When temperatures soar, fire hydrants across the city flow freely and not necessarily to put out fires. The practice, commonly known as “uncapping,” has long served as a way for city residents to cool off. Although it is not entirely legal, it is generally tolerated, especially when temperatures climb above 90.

“The nights in Bennett Park “ - Bennett Park occupies the highest point of land in Manhattan, 265.05 feet above sea level, located in Fort Washington between 183rd and 185th Streets.

“blasting Big Pun tapes” - Big Pun was an American rapper and actor.

(An earlier version of this article was originally published September 2, 2020.)

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