About

West Side Story is a 1961 adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, which was based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in late 1950s Manhattan, the film chronicles the rivalry between a white American gang (the Jets) and a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants (the Sharks), and, of course, a pair of star-crossed lovers caught between.

In this scene, the men and women of the Sharks debate the advantages and disadvantages of their adopted country, America. In the original 1957 stage version of the musical, one woman (Anita) sings the praises of the United States, while another sings in favor of Puerto Rico, but the piece overwhelmingly favored the positive aspects of the United States while painting a more negative picture of Puerto Rico. In the 1961 film adaptation, Anita and her fellow women still sing in favor of the United States, but the male members of the gang counter with corresponding criticism about racism in American society. Most of the original negative content about Puerto Rico was removed from this version.

Discussion

On what common historical narratives or clichés about immigration, assimilation, and the American Dream do the lyrics draw?

Do you think the scene provides a fair portrayal of the opportunities and challenges faced by nonwhite immigrants in the 1950s? Why or why not?

What might a more modern interpretation of the scene look or sound like?