“America”: let’s ask Rita Moreno and George Chakiris to sum it up
1 October 2012
Maybe you remember this song from West Side Story (1961) as being dated, and perhaps a fantasy of primitivism: Anita (Rita Moreno) fantasizing about Cadillacs in America while reminding her boyfriend/ dance partner Bernardo (George Chakiris) that the “natives” back home in Puerto Rico were perpetually unemployed and pregnant.
But watch it again and tell me if it isn’t an improvement on our own debate 50 years later. This song remains a slap in the face to the American dream, and also a paean to it. More important, watch the dynamism between the dancing, the camerawork, and the ultimate seriousness of the debate amongst these young Latinos. This sequence fundamentally subverts the occasional ick of the lyrics, pushing Latino voices to the forefront and allowing them to debate amongst themselves the pros and cons of being brown in America.
And holy crap, the dancing. It’s exhilarating.