Exploring the Latino Metropolis: A Brief Urban Cultural History of US Latinos

West Side Story

     West Side Story is a famous musical that sets its scenes in the urban slums of the Upper West Side of New York. Based off of Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet, this musical follows the rivalry between two street gangs of very different ethnic backgrounds: The Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are the local whites in the neighborhood. Unhappy with the flux of immigrants flooding their town, they take pursuit of control of the whole neighborhood, challenging the Sharks, the Puerto Rican immigrants, to a battle. Amidst the tension and hatred between both groups, a Puerto Rican girl, Anita, and a prominent member of the Jets, Tony, fall in love at first sight, similar to the plot of Shakespeare’s play. Their love grows stronger as the animosity between the two groups grows stronger. The plot continues just as Shakespeare’s tale does, ending in the tragic demise of young love, and two ashamed groups of people.
     Throughout the play, the Puerto Ricans are subject to racism, discrimination, and hate, but the way the musical is written speaks about the status quo on a deeper level. The story takes place in the 1950s, a time when Latino immigration to New York was very high, due to the removal of some restrictions on immigration. West Side Story illustrates the struggles and difficulties that Latino immigrants had to face, but it also references many of the stereotypes of the Puerto Ricans. The writers of the musical depict Puerto Rican men as poverty-stricken, violent, uneducated gang members and the women as loud and sassy. The stereotype that is promoted by the musical (and Hollywood in general) disparages the Puerto Rican identity that the Nuyorican immigrants were so prideful of (Negron-Muntaner). Anita’s famous lines, “Your mother’s a Pole, your father’s a Swede, but you were born here, and that’s all that you need. You are an American. But us? Foreigners (Sondheim),” epitomize the inevitable hardships that immigrants felt at the time, and it was hopeless to escape them.
     Furthermore, the love conflict between Anita and Tony embodies the internal conflicts of Puerto Rican immigrants on a symbolic, allegorical level. Their love was forbidden, their cultures were not allowed to mix, they were constantly criticized, and ultimately, their love ended tragically (Maniego). This symbolizes the adversity Latino immigrants experienced when trying to overcome stereotypes and assimilate into American culture, which, like Anita and Tony’s love, was virtually impossible. 

Works Cited‚Äč

This page has paths:

This page references: