Sunday, June 23, 2024

In the Heights and Dutiful Princess Nina Rosario

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Before Hamilton, there was In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other American musical centered around the predominantly Latinx community of Washington Heights in New York. It’s the fandom I’ve made my home of for the past few months and, naturally, with all the love you hold for a piece of fiction often also comes the desire to take it apart and analyze it bit by bit.

If you’ve been on this website for five minutes, you probably know about the Martells from A Song of Ice and Fire, if only because certain editors are particularly fond of that family and the way their relationships are built. Tragically dysfunctional family dynamics between people who love each other so dearly, but simply cannot express it in the way any other family would and act in self-destructive recklessness.

A long while back, Kylie and Julia defined what they perceive as the nine criteria that make a family Martell-like. The more a character and their family hits these points, the more similar to the Martells they are, and therefore the more interesting.

Meet Kevin and Camila Rosario.

Come all the way from Puerto Rico 27 years ago, they have worked hard their whole lives for their daughter to have a better life than they did. Nina Rosario is the first in the barrio to go to college, the girl everyone loves and is proud of, the one who got out… and she drops out. Scholarship didn’t cover all the expenses, she had to work two jobs and didn’t have time to even read the books she struggled to buy. Her grades were below the cut-off and she lost her scholarship. Faced with the fear of seeing his only child not succeeding, Kevin decides to sell their cab business to pay for Nina’s tuition. Ensues Nina refusing that money, not coming home for the night, and both of them getting scolded by a very angry Camila for their lack of communication the next day. Nina finally realizes how much her community and her family loves her and decides to go back to college and try to finish what she started.

The thing about Nina and Kevin is that they are… Martells. They’re Martells, and as such, Nina is a Dutiful Princess. Now, I won’t go as far as saying they hit all nine points perfectly, but they do have those sweet tragic mutual misunderstanding, internalized guilt and inability to express their love for each other. Camila only hits a few points there, I think not enough to qualify her, but overall, for a non-Martell family, they’re pretty Martell-like. Let’s explore why in a little bit more details.

Internalized Guilt and Self Deprecation

“Hey guys, it’s me, the biggest disappointment you know.” − Nina Rosario

“Today, my daughter’s home and I am useless.” − Kevin Rosario

Both hit this point real hard. If Nina dropped out, it’s her own fault, she’s the worst daughter, everyone will be disappointed in her, she doesn’t deserve anyone’s love. At least if you ask her. If you ask Kevin, it’s all his fault, he’s the worst father, he led his family to ruin and couldn’t provide. Both of them even have an entire song each all about their guilt.

In Nina’s “Breathe”, she sings about how anxious she feels to announce her parents and the rest of the block that she dropped out of school. Everyone around her greets her with all this much love and pride she feels she doesn’t deserve. She considers herself a failure for coming short of their expectations and tells herself to breathe to not lose herself in the angst and guilt. This alone should really suffice to categorize her as a Dutiful Princess, who carries on her shoulders the weight of her people’s expectations.

Am I the only one who thinks that she also looks the part of a princess?

The guilt she feels is mirrored in Kevin’s “Inútil” where he reminisces his own childhood. His father was a farmer and wanted his son to follow in his steps, but Kevin had bigger dreams for his future, dreams that he tried to instill in his daughter. In his own failure to provide for his daughter and allow her to reach her dreams, he sees the same uselessness as he saw in his father’s inaction. He considers himself a failure as a father and a provider because he sees his daughter’s success in school his sole responsibility to ensure.

Genuine and deep affection for each other

“I love you, Dad.” − Nina Rosario

“Family comes first, above everything!” − Kevin Rosario

All three Rosarios love each other very deeply. All the actions taken by any of these characters were driven by their caring for each other. Nina loves her parents so dearly and feels sorry that she’s letting them down. This is why she didn’t initially tell them she was struggling in school and about to drop out: she didn’t want them to worry about her and to have to spend their money on her when they were already having financial troubles. And Kevin puts his family first, always. This is why he let everything go and sold his life-long business to pay for her daughter’s tuition, because firing all his drivers and robbing the neighborhood community of a business they greatly needed was secondary to her success.

Ultimately, they are a family who care about each other even though they fight over each person’s way of dealing with the problem they’re having. Nina may have thought that her father was being reckless when he sold his business, and she disagreed with his decision because she felt it was a betrayal to her community, her people, but she eventually accepted it because the alternative of not going back to school and letting everyone down, including her late grandmother figure Abuela Claudia, was far more daunting. Kevin, similarly, thought that Nina should have told him she was having troubles at school and should have asked for money instead of trying to cope on her own, but he learns to understand that she was in a difficult position and was just trying to not disappoint them. They love each other very deeply and everything they did was in an attempt to make life easier for the other person.

This part is where Camila also intervenes as the go-between to make both of them realize that they’re acting just as ridiculously, both of them trying to shoulder the burden of the guilt and acting impulsively as a result. She makes them see how similar they are and that they should reconcile because they so obviously care about each other so much. Nina’s ultimate decision to go back to Stanford University is also purely fueled by her love for her family and for her late Abuela Claudia.

“Hold tight, Abuela, if you’re up there, I’ll make you proud of everything I know!” − Nina Rosario

Creating more conflict by trying to avoid it

“When you have a problem, you come home, you don’t go off and make matters worse on your own.” − Camila, to Kevin Rosario

“Why didn’t you just ask me?” − Kevin, to Nina Rosario

Both of them are guilty of this, big time. This is the whole reason of the conflict at all.

Nina was in a difficult position, having to work two jobs to pay for her school expenses and didn’t even find the time to study, write her term paper or read the books. Why did she struggle so much? Because she was scared of talking about it with her parents, of course. She didn’t even tell them she got a second job. Her dad had laid off half of the drivers of his cab company and of course, Nina was feeling too guilty to dare ask for the help she thought they wouldn’t be able to afford. Eventually she lost her scholarship and went on to hide it from her parents for four months.

She lied to her mom every time she called rather than mention that, hey mom, I dropped out of college and am homeless and living on a friend’s couch? So how’s the barrio going? All throughout her year in college, she let events submerge her until it was too late and she was completely drowned, and even then, she waited till she absolutely couldn’t put it off any longer to tell them, when she went back home and had to face them for real.

In the same way, Kevin reacted to the news that Nina had dropped out by not talking things out and not asking for anyone’s help. Instead, he takes the one-sided decision of selling the family business. Camila and Nina are outraged and Kevin doesn’t even seem to understand why, as he made his decision solely for Nina’s benefit and expects them to support it. But communication is so difficult for a Martell, of course, so why would he have consulted them before putting his plan into action? It’s so much easier to try to solve everything and mess everything up in the process.

Shakespearean Flaws

“I took another leap of faith. I sold the business to pay for your tuition.” − Kevin Rosario

Yup, there’s definitely something they have in plenty, although I would probably award then half a point for this because the Martells have all the tragic flaws, and the Rosarios only some. I think that I’ve made obvious so far that talking isn’t the Rosarios’ forte: communication deficiency is for sure a flaw Kevin and Nina share. Neither of them were willing to admit their mistakes or shortcomings and they refused to acknowledge it.

Where they differ is that Nina is rather guilty of the flaw of inaction induced by indecisiveness, whereas Kevin is impulsive and reckless. Where she chose to let things unfold and follow their tragic, downwards course, he chose to follow the first idea bursting in his mind. The reason for this is that Nina extends her internalized guilt to pretty much everyone. She considers it her personal responsibility to make everyone in her neighborhood proud and hates herself for coming short of that impossible goal.

“They are all counting on me to succeed. I am the one who made it out, the one who always made the grade. But maybe I should have just stayed home…” − Nina Rosario

Not everyone can be as dutiful. Kevin doesn’t have such a large range of people he feels personally responsible for: that list includes his wife and his daughter pretty much exclusively. For this reason, the weight of his actions only extends to them and he doesn’t feel the need to be as cautious as her, who has the eyes of everyone on the block on her, paralyzing her into inaction. Note that Kevin’s impulsiveness doesn’t start with his decision to sell the business but was present even long before: for example, he decided to move to the United States on a whim, simply showing up at Camila’s house with a suitcase and leaving that same day. Even the very first scene we see him in is him trying to buy $20 of lottery tickets, before being chided by Camila.

Idealization of a parent or of the past

“I used to think we lived at the top of the world, when the world was just a subway map and my thoughts took shape on that fire escape. Can you remind me of what it was like at the top of the world?” − Nina Rosario

“She used to stay on the fire escape while all the other kids would play.” − Kevin Rosario

This part is stronger in Nina than in Kevin. Throughout the musical, she’s reminiscing her childhood when she was acknowledged as the barrio’s best and could wear that title proudly, as the one who fought to haul herself above others and push forward, saving every penny to pay for college and studying non stop. She has an idyllic version of the block in her mind as she remembers it, a place where everything seemed possible and where dreams could come true. The symbolism of her safe place being her fire escape is also part of this: she felt above the common issues of every day life, she felt above the lot of the others. Back before she messed everything up in college, back before she became a failure, back in the past when everything was better.

Kevin shares this vision but also directed her way. He remembers the boundless pride he felt towards his daughter who delivered every promise, back when she was younger and everything she did was perfect, but also back when their relationship was closer.

However, neither of them seem to idealize their parent. Kevin is actually very critical of his dad, who he felt was dragging him down and who Camila herself calls a “son of a bitch”. Nina isn’t as negative, but she immediately calls into question her father’s decision to sell the business because of the impact it has on the drivers and the community. I don’t think it’s fair to say that either of them idealize their parent and excuse their behavior to their last breath. Half a point again.

Self-destructive behavior

“She followed your lead. She walked out that door, same as you.”
“Pero carajo, who opened that door?”
− Kevin and Camila Rosario

This joins in with what has been said previously. Kevin’s recklessness pushes him to make a very heavy decision on a whim and drives him away from his family − until Camila jumps in to take charge again and force these two to communicate a little bit. The decision definitely had dire consequences for him and for the people around him. As Usnavi underlines, the drivers are a big part of the business of the block and his selling the business is just a part of the gentrification that takes over their neighborhood, ultimately in everyone’s detriment, but if that act allowed for Nina to keep going to college, then Kevin signed those papers with no hesitation whatsoever.

Nina also drives herself away from her family and the people who care about her with her deliberate isolation and running away from home. However, I wouldn’t qualify her actions during the musical as self-destructive in that what she is doing is simply shying away from her troubles by giving herself entirely to Benny and abandoning the rest, temporarily. I think her self-destructive behavior is all that occurred during her school year. Taking two jobs, refusing to ask for help, refusing to admit she had failed, not to any friends and not even to her family. She holed herself up and it’s a long time and a lot of struggles before she’s able to climb out.

Difficulty with other relationships

I don’t know that this is the most obvious one for the Rosarios. Now, it’s not completely absent from that narrative either. It’s true that Kevin isn’t the best at bonding with other people because he obviously prioritizes his family over his friends and employees to an extreme. It’s also true that Nina could barely sit her butt and relax for five minutes with her friends at the salon before the Dutiful Princess guilt came back and she had to leave immediately to go wallow in her pain.

However, I don’t think it’s really accurate to say that Nina is completely unresponsive to emotional support. It’s true that she absolutely couldn’t take her friends’ cheering at the salon and left, and it’s also true that when Sonny tried to comfort her, she only replied with sass and wasn’t really letting her guard down. But a big part of her narrative on the musical revolves around the budding romance between her and one of her father’s drivers Benny. He always tries to offer her support whenever she beats herself up. And she takes it. Admittedly it doesn’t come all that naturally to her. Her first impulse is to reject his praise with her internalized guilt.

“That sound you are hearing, it’s the neighborhood just cheering you along.”
“Don’t say that. […] Please, don’t say you’re proud of me when I’ve lost my way.” − Benny and Nina

But over the course of the story, she lets Benny in, allows him to distract her and support her so completely and she even goes as far as sleeping over at his place (although who knows how much actual sleeping was involved…), abandoning her family for the night to be with him. I don’t know that this initial reluctance qualifies to give the family this point, so only half for Kevin.

Conscious manipulation of public image

“Straighten the spine, smile for the neighbors. Everything’s fine. Everything’s cool.” − Nina Rosario

I think that the phrasing is a bit more formidable than what the Rosarios actually do. What actually happens in their case is that they want their private affairs and family drama to be kept strictly private. This is one of the rare instances where Camila Rosario also fits one of the Martell criteria. She initially organized a dinner to celebrate Nina’s first year in Stanford and when Nina asked her to cancel it after admitting she dropped out, Camila strictly refused. The dinner happened, all the while Camila pretending nothing is wrong at all. When Kevin barged into the dinner to announce he’d sold the business and refused to hear her side of things, she threw everyone out, not wanting to air the dirty laundry in front of them.

Nina is also very adept at this. She is always very careful with the image she presents to the world. She has expectations put upon her and she is extremely eager to look the part. I wouldn’t say that she does this in any malicious way, however. She just “conceal don’t feel”s the shit out of it all, although still feeling a whole lot. She’s more about putting up a stable front rather than intently manipulating people. Note that I think this may be assigned to the fact that In the Heights is a musical about the every day life of normal people where no one plots against anyone. It’s not an environment that really nurtures scheming, and therefore purposeful manipulation for bigger motives.


Yep, all three of them have all the sass they need.

“You’re the princess, and Claudia’s the queen.”
“And what does that make me?”
“The dictator!”
“Damn straight.”
− Kevin and Camila Rosario

“They spoke a different kind of English at Stanford.”
“‘Weekend.’ Verb. To go skiing at your cabin on Lake Tahoe. ‘Cabin’. Noun. A blasé word for mansion.”
“Well, did you teach them a few words from home?”
“Of course, every day at the cafeteria, I was like ‘Would you like some fries with that?'”
− Nina and Benny

“Are you trying to shame me?!”
“Yes, Dad, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do!”
− Kevin and Nina Rosario


I think it’s entirely safe to say that Kevin and Nina are Martells, driven apart by their guilt and slow to reconcile, despite their deep love for one another. And even though Camila doesn’t have the apparel of a Martell, she was there when they needed her to reconcile them. Long live this Dutiful Princess and her father who would do anything for her.


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