In The Heights: All Spanish Words Meaning Explained

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It’s no surprise the Spanish language is a big part of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, a musical that pays homage to a mostly Hispanic New York neighborhood, and here’s what they all mean. Like the musical, the 2021 film adaptation of In the Heights is filled with the sounds of Miranda’s block, including the unique mix of English and Spanish spoken by its residents. Many of the most important Spanish words and phrases are translated onscreen during the movie, but it’s still easy for non-Spanish speakers to miss some of the nuances of the story.

Miranda’s Washington Heights is populated by a colorful cast of Latinx characters from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba, each with their own regional dialect. Together, the characters create their own language, filled with Spanish loan words, American idioms and even some Spanish/English mashups. Although the older, first-generation characters tend to speak in Spanish more often, every character uses a mix of the two languages. Often, Usnavi and the others will fall back on Spanish in moments of high emotion or to say something that doesn’t translate to English.

When and where Spanish is used is also meaningful. For example, during “Breathe,” some of Nina’s English lines echo the Spanish lines her neighbors are singing. “(It shows) the challenge of having her basically translate all of the burdens and expectations they’re placing on her,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda in an interview with Swarthmore College. In the Heights itself gives monolingual audiences a glimpse into a world dominated by Latin America language and culture. For everyone who wants to know more, here’s the meaning of every Spanish word dropped during the movie.

Slang and Spanglish

Fo! – An interjection Usnavi uses when he discovers his fridge is broken. Short for fuchi or fuchila, the word is a colloquial expression of disgust, especially at a smell or taste, similar to “piu” or “yuck.”

Paciencia y fe – Claudia’s oft-spoken mantra translates literally as “patience and faith,” a reminder to maintain those virtues throughout life.

Ay – An expression of surprise or shock, like “oh,” commonly used by Usnavi and others. Many In The Heights characters also say “Ay Dios mio,” meaning “Oh Lord” or “Oh my God.”

Oye – Literally translated, “oye” means “listen,” but it can also be used in command form to mean “hey, listen!” For example, “Oye! Que paso?” loosely means “Hey! What happened?,” as sung in “Blackout.”

No me diga – The salon ladies’ catchphrase, meaning “you don’t say,” is often used as an expression of surprise or shock at juicy gossip.

Trigueño – Nina uses this word to describe herself as she talks about how her time at Stanford has made her feel ostracized from the Latin American community. Literally translated, it means light brown, but in the Dominican Republic, it’s often used to describe those who are light-skinned or biracial, neither Black nor white.

Caramba – A well-known Latin interjection that loosely means “good heavens!” or “oh my!”

Mira – A form of the verb “mirar” meaning “to look.” Like “oye,” “mira” can be used in command form to mean “Hey, look at this” or “Hey, guess what?”

Bueno – Literally translated, “bueno” means “good,” but it is also used as a slang word meaning “OK” or “all right.” For example, someone might say “bueno” as an affirmative response to a question.

Machismo – Vanessa uses this word to describe the men who catcall her on the streets of NYC. There’s no direct translation, but being “machismo” loosely means having an exaggerated sense of masculinity, such that aggression, strength and sexual prowess is a measure of manliness.

Alabanza – Claudia, who had an appreciation for the little things in life, sometimes used this phrase. Following her death, Usnavi explains that it means “to raise this thing to God’s face and to sing, quite literally, ‘Praise to this.’”  The song continues, “Alabanza a Dona Claudia, Senor,” giving praise to the woman herself.

Pana, Compay – Slang words meaning “buddy,” “pal” or in America, maybe “bro.”

Wepa! – During the club scene, Vanessa’s friends greet her by saying “Wepa! Vanessa!” This is another slang word which, used in this context, is an expression of pleasure at seeing a friend like, “Hey! Vanessa!” or “Cool! Vanessa!”

Que pasa – “What’s up?” or “what’s wrong?”

Que calor – Loosely, “it’s so hot!” A commonly used phrase during New York City summers, perhaps inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s experience.

P’alante – Before launching into “Carnaval del Barrio,” Daniella admonishes the crowd, saying “If abuela was here, she would say p’alante. Blackouts happen all the time in Puerto Rico.” “P’alante” is a colloquialism meaning “keep going” or “get moving!”

¡Qué bochinche! – “What a racket!” or “what noise!”

De verdad? – Really? or Seriously?

Food and Drink

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Piragua – Shaved ice covered in fruit-flavored syrup, a popular summer treat in Puerto Rico. The piragua guy advertises a variety of flavors throughout the movie including “parcha,” passion fruit; “china,” orange; “limon,” lemon; “pina,” pineapple; “fresa,” strawberry; and “mamey,” a yellow-orange fruit native to Mexico and Central America.

Pan caliente – Mr. Rosario’s usual order at Usnavi’s bodega which, in this context, could be a hot breakfast sandwich. Literally, it means “warm bread.”

Cafe con leche – Coffee with milk or cream

Coquito – A traditional Christmas drink originating in Puerto Rico. There’s a huge variety of recipes but it’s traditionally made from coconut milk, condensed milk, and rum.

Family Members

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Abuela – Grandmother. Claudia doesn’t have any biological children, but she acts as a grandmother to the whole block, the matriarch of Washington Heights.

Mijo – An affectionate term of endearment like darling.

Papi – Dad.

Mama/mami – Mom.

Hija – Daughter.


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Nueve York – New York.

Barrio – Neighborhood.

Bodega – A corner store.

Puerto Plata – A coastal city in the Dominican Republic where Usnavi dreams of relocating.

Arecibo – A large coastal city in Puerto Rico where Mr. Rosario used to shine shoes.

La Vibora – A neighborhood in Cuba Claudia describes as “the Washington Heights of Havana” during “Paciencia y Fe.”

Vega Alta – A neighborhood in Puerto Rico Daniela references during “Carnaval del Barrio.”

Playa Rincon – A beach in the Dominican Republic.

Usnavi also refers to the Dominican Republic as the D.R. and Puerto Rico as the P.R.

Latin American References

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Lai-le-lo-lai – A common musical refrain in Puerto Rico.

Big Papi – During “Benny’s Dispatch,” the second song on In The Heights‘ soundtrack, Benny warns taxi drivers to avoid a major expressway, because “Big Papi is in town this weekend.” Big Papi is the nickname of renowned Dominican-American hitter David Ortiz. Fun fact: This lyric was changed from the original musical, where it referenced Manny Ramirez.

Taíno genocide – “We survived Taíno genocide,” says Daniela about the Latin people. The Taíno were the indigenous people of the Caribbean, including Cuba and Puerto Rico, who were all but wiped out by the Spanish.

conquistadors and dictators – Another reference by Daniela to the Spanish conquerors of South America and later, Latin American dictators like Fidel Castro.

Merengue – The national dance of the Dominican Republic and a traditional music genre. Usnavi mentions merengue when he’s talking about why he wants to move back to the D.R.

Carnaval – An annual celebration in the Dominican Republic that typically takes place in February and/or March. Carnaval is an enormous street festival including parades, music, dance, costumes and masks.

¡No pares, sigue, sigue! – Lyrics from the hit song “El Tiburón” by the Dominican band Proyecto Uno. Usnavi and Sonny sing this after Usnavi successfully snags a date from Vanessa (with a lot of help from Sonny). Loosely translated, it means “”Don’t stop, get it, get it!”

Aguinaldo – a genre of Christmas music in Latin America.

Simply in Spanish

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Sueñito – The “little dream” every In the Heights character is holding onto.

Dios te bendiga – God bless you.

Escuela – School. “This corner is her escuela,” Usnavi sings in the opening song, talking about his “abuela” Claudia.

Mañana – Tomorrow.

Atención – Attention. From “Benny’s Dispatch.”

Ve a hablar con tu papa – “Go talk to your dad,” Claudia says to Nina.

Para siempre – Forever. Lyrics from Claudia’s favorite record, which starts skipping on the words “para siempre.” The full verse from the song is, “No te vayas/Si me dejas/Si te alejas de mi/Seguirás en mis recuerdos para siempre,” meaning “Don’t leave/if you leave me./If you go away from me/you’ll go on in my memories forever.”

Pastel – Cake.

Plaza – City square.

Siéntate – Sit down.

Adios – Goodbye.

Dile mi gente – Tell my people. Kevin Rosario says this talking about how Nina is “the best we got.”

Como? – What?

Se acabó todo – It’s over.

Y tu lo sabes – And you know it.

Chancletas – Flip-flops.

Esa pregunta es tricky – Spanglish lyrics from “96,000,” meaning “Your question is tricky.”

Lyrics from “Breathe”

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Sigue andando el camino por toda su vida. Respira. – The chorus to “Breathe,” meaning “Keep walking the path for your whole life. Breathe.”

Y si pierdes mis huellas que dios te bendiga – And if you lose my tracks/my footprints, may God help you.

Boleros – A genre of music originating in Cuba in the 19th century, often love songs.

Te adoro, te quiero – I adore you, I love you.

No me preocupo por ella – I’m not worried about her.

Mira, alli esta nuestra estrella – Look, there’s our star (referring to Nina).

Lyrics from “No me Diga”

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Tres paradas – Three stops. Daniela talking about the distance between her current salon in Washington Heights and her new location in the Grand Concourse.

Que voy a hacer? – What am I going to do? or What am I supposed to do? Again, Daniela talking about moving to the Grand Concourse.

Cariño – Dear.

Vieja! – Girl!

Sucia! – A slang term for “dirty girl,” like “skank.” Here, a sardonic term of endearment.

Cabrona! – A stubborn, independent or opinionated woman.

Ay, bendito! – Oh, bless you!

Que se yo? – What do I know?

Lyrics from “Piragua”

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De peso y de peseta, Hey! – The cost of a piragua in Mexican currency.

Pero – But.

Gracias, mi amor – Thank you, my love.

Esta abierto – It’s open.

Ven baila – Come dance.

Lyrics from “The Club” and “Blackout”

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Y cada dia/it’s a brand new chore – And every day/it’s a brand new chore.

Vino el apagon – The blackout has come.

Daniela’s dialogue during “The Blackout” – “Mira, mi amor. Házme un favor! Despiérta la abuela y a lo mejor ella tiene una vela! Estuve bailando cuando vino el apagón. Aqui hay gente pero no sé quienes son!”

In English, “Look my love. Do me a favor! Wake up grandma and maybe she has a candle! I was dancing when the blackout came. There are people here but I don’t know who they are!”

Lyrics from “Carnaval del Barrio”

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Listas – Lists.

Diablo – Devil.

Carajo – A curse word.

Fiesta – Party.

Mi amor, calmate – Calm down, my love. Carla says this to Daniela, who immediately disregards her.

What’s this tontería that I’m seeing on the street? – What’s this nonsense that I’m seeing on the street?

We don’t need electricidad/Gett off your butt, avanza!/Saca la maraca, bring your tambourine/Come and join the parranda – We don’t need electricity. Get off your butt, move forward! Take out the maraca, bring your tambourine. Come and join the party.

I don’t know what you’re cantando – I don’t know what you’re singing.

Just make it up as you go! We are improvisando – Just make it up as you go! We are improvising.

Alza la bandera! – Raise the flag! This refrain is sung before naming four flags from Latin American countries: the Dominican flag, Puerto Rican flag, Mexican flag and Cuban flag. Each is raised during the dance sequence.

P’arriba esa bandera/Alzala donde quiera/Recuerdo de mi tierra – Put up that flag. Raise it wherever you want. I remember my land.

Me acuerdo de mi tierra/Esa bonita bandera!/Contiene mi alma entera!/Y cuando yo me muera/Entierrame en mi tierra! – 

I remember my land./That nice flag!/It contains my whole soul!/And when I die/ bury me in my land!

Mira para alla – Look over there.

Links: In The Heights: All Spanish Words Meaning Explained – Tekmonk Bio, In The Heights: All Spanish Words Meaning Explained – Kungfutv, In The Heights: All Spanish Words Meaning Explained – Hot News

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