Discussion Packet

In the Heights (2021) – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

  1. What character did you like the most? Why did you feel that way?
    Caregiver Note: This question may seem basic, but this is a great starter question to open up the floor for discussion. This movie has a lot of tough themes and starting right off the bat with complex thoughts may be difficult for your teen. This is also a question that can provide insight on where your child may be struggling themselves by what character they perhaps identify with.
  2. Why do most of the characters seem to be so attached to The Heights? What parts of The Heights do they love? What parts do they not love?
    Caregiver Note: With this question your child can start to process the theme of cultural connection and connectivity for the characters in the film. Many factors mentioned or that you can add may include supportive adults, familiar surroundings/smells/foods, holidays and celebrations, predictability, friendships, feelings of belonging, feeling comfortable/not like a representative, and other components.
  3. What sorts of things do you miss from your biological family and old neighborhoods?
    Caregiver Note: This is a time for your child to express themselves, and potentially their needs. This may be especially difficult if your child was very young when they became estranged from their cultural community, however your teen will likely have needs for connection in some ways that you may be able to help with. If they are missing out on food and celebration experiences there are often cultural events in larger cities that can be attended. If they are missing out on primary language opportunities a club or language classes may help them access that side of their identity. Maybe they miss their neighborhood soccer coach or other supports (like Abuela in the movie) that may not have been blood relatives but were major supports. Regardless of how in depth or shallow your child may go here it’s important for you to listen and potentially consider areas your child may be starving for support because your personal community may not be able to provide for some needs.
  4. How did Nina struggle outside of the barrio? Why did she want to drop out of Stanford?
    Caregiver Note: Nina certainly was running the gambit of stresses in her college experience. She not only shouldered the weight of her own dreams to “get out” and improve her future but the dreams of her father and her community. She was alone in her cultural connections so far from home. She felt the weight of her father’s financial sacrifices. She also stuck out as “other” in the benefit dinner and in the necklace scenario. To an outsider, it seems absurd that Nina wants so badly to drop out and return to The Heights but the reality is this is a scenario that many teens struggle with as they leave the familiar and plunge into unknown territory. In addition, children of color will also struggle with systemic barriers that were created with racist policies in mind. Consider Benny who has a tough background and how this would hinder his prospects to attend the same school. Benny has grown and changed, but stereotypes persist for many teens as they move into adulthood. And Nina, in spite of her stellar grades and being top of every subject can still be mistaken for a waitress in formal wear. And how Nina can have multiple adults call for police and an aggressive search when the necklace was not even lost. Teens of color will have struggles unique to their experiences and it is important that, like Nina’s supports in the neighborhood, that a caregiver listens with a supportive attitude, validates these tough emotions through these even tougher situations, and be prepared with the flexibility to follow your child’s needs as they process these unfair situations.
  5. How was Nina able to connect her identity and still “assert dignity in small ways” as Abuela said?
    Caregiver Note: We don’t know what Nina wanted to study originally, but eventually Nina takes on her passion for advocacy (as seen in her protests and implied in how she and Sonny used to attend more protests before) but Nina eventually was able to sort through her experiences and emotions with her caring community supports and decide to pursue a way to help her community with her positioning in Stanford. Though this will be a tough fight to go into law as a person of color and to fight for the rights of Dreamers like Sonny, Nina was still able to find a way to assert her dignity and cultural connections into a meaningful dream that could improve her own life as well as those that follow her. Nina’s bravery in this decision also strengthens her resolve to continue her studies at Stanford as she knows that her community is waiting for her and her unique aid and perspective.
  6. What is a way you can assert dignity in small ways in your life? Have you thought about that in your thoughts for the future?
    Caregiver Note: This is your teen’s chance to process through their thoughts on the present and future if they desire. This conversation needs to be led by your teen as long as they are comfortable. This conversation does not need to be a one-time conversation either and can be continued any time later and really should. Not every child will aspire to specifically give back to their communities and may want something else, like Vanessa, but giving your child the space to talk out their dreams and give names and breath to aspiration is very important and thinking in the terms of asserting dignity may give your child the vocabulary to express thoughts and feelings they may have.
  7. Why did Vanessa get denied an apartment downtown?
    Caregiver Note: Vanessa is not shown to have parents or siblings available to be a cosigner, so she is much like many former foster youth that age out in that she lacks credit and financial supports such as a cosigner for major financial undertakings like a better place to live closer to more career opportunities. It’s easy for someone outside of this situation to judge others for not bettering themselves, but the reality is not every young adult or teen has the same resources. Vanessa’s primary connections are Abuela, who likely doesn’t have the credit history herself to cosign, other persons her own age and socio-economic status, and her boss… and I don’t know about you but I would not feel comfortable asking my boss to cosign for an apartment that would help me not work for them anymore. Vanessa’s struggle though is the same as many young adults that have realized quickly that hard work alone will not give the same opportunities as social and familial and financial connections.
  8. Has there ever been a time where, like Vanessa, you felt like every door shut while trying to pursue a dream?
    Caregiver Note: This is your child’s chance to respond and give you insight on their unique struggles. These may relate to lack of specific supports, like Vanessa, a lack of connections, like Nina, or just a lack of resources and time like Usnavi. Regardless this is a great conversation to help your child give words to feelings, problem solve with you, and for you to offer your support as, like Vanessa, not every child will feel comfortable asking for some types of support.
  9. What was Usnavi’s dream? How did Usnavi’s dream change over the course of the film?
    Caregiver Note: Usnavi’s dream was to move back to the Dominican Republic, rebuild his father’s bar, and to live out his life among his culture and enjoying the benefits of island life. Over time though, Usnavi found conflict between his feelings for Vanessa, who he has liked and known for a long time, his support of Dreamer cousin Sonny, giving back to his community as Abuela did for him, and this island dream. Over time he was able to find a way to consolidate all of these dreams into remaining in The Heights and still bringing his desire to tell the stories of The Heights and serve his community but remain in the United States but this meant shifting away from the original dream he imagined. This doesn’t mean Usnavi failed, but teens need to know that like Usnavi and Vanessa that just because their dreams may evolve and mature over time it doesn’t mean they’ve outright abandoned them and the hard work they’ve put in so far is not a waste. All our experiences come together and grow us as persons and Usnavi was no exception to this. It’s not easy to start over or move into another direction but at the end of the day that movement forward is always a win.
  10.  Did Usnavi succeed in his dreams? Why or why not?
    Caregiver Note: I would say Usnavi absolutely did but perhaps your child feels different. Allow them to express themselves and help them give names to thoughts and feelings. This will help them over time in discussing their own dreams as they wrestle with how their own dreams evolve and grow too.

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Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its reviews nor in this discussion packet to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.


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