Many of those who watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Diego Calls Home” short last night on SNL may have initially misread it, expecting a funny short film on a comedy show. That it was largely in Spanish may have made it even more hard to decipher, but watch it again. Watch it with an understanding of what it was about, an understanding of Miranda was trying to say.
Taking place in a phone booth in the middle a corn field — an image that evokes both the loneliness and the vulnerability of the immigrant experience — Miranda plays a Latino immigrant who uses a calling card to phone home to talk to his mother. He speaks in Spanish, except when referring to the huge, bizarre wonders of North Dakota — the marshmallow salad, Little Debbie snacks, big mounds of yellow and orange foods — and he tells his mom about the friend he made working as a dishwasher. Preston. He’s the QB of his high school football team, and Preston took him to watch the fireworks in the bed of his pick-up truck. He has dinner with Preston’s family. They’re full of American platitudes, and they make him feel at home.
Miranda speaks of what a great country America is — big, wonderful, strange. It’s not a funny short (it’s more akin to the melancholy “Sad Mouse”) but it’s not meant to be, either. It captures the vulnerability of those who enter this country earnest and hopeful, who miss their families but who relish those new connections they make in America, connections that remind them of their long-lost connections to home.
And this is the guy that Donald Trump and his supporters want to prevent from coming into our country by building a wall. This is a guy Donald Trump and his supporters call a rapist.
This guy isn’t a criminal. He’s a human being. He’s a human being who misses his mother, but wants her to know that he’s doing well in America. This is the American immigrant.
It’s an amazingly sweet, poignant short that left my wife in tears. It also recalls Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna), a beautiful, touching movie that no one talks about but that everyone should watch (it’s on Netflix).