Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ariana DeBose are both Broadway powerhouses that are proud to be Latinos: while Miranda was born and raised in New York, he is of Puerto Rican descent. And Raleigh-born DeBose’s father is Puerto Rican as well. The two stars are friends, meeting for the first time during DeBose’s audition for her 2011 Broadway debut in “Bring It On: The Musical,” later culminating in them sharing the stage on “Hamilton” where she played The Bullet.  

Now, the two talented celebrities sat down for Vanity Fair to talk about their unique experiences in Broadway and Hollywood, going down memory lane as DeBose recalled Miranda once telling her: “if you feel something say something.” As per DeBose herself, “it’s simple advice, but it’s been the greatest advice,” using it to fully inhabit her role as Anita in “West Side Story,” where director Steven Spielberg would say: “she’s feeling something, don’t do anything.”

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Apart from talking about Miranda’s experience directing “tick, tick…BOOM!” and DeBose’s meteoric rise as a Golden Globe Award-winning and Oscar-nominated actress, the two also discussed a topic that bonds them in an unexpected way. 

Although DeBose speaks Spanish at some points throughout the film “West Side Story,” she is actually not a fluent Spanish speaker. She recalled first arriving to New York City in the hopes of making her acting dreams come true, meeting Miranda and telling him she was Puerto Rican, only for him to begin speaking Spanish to her. Repeating the stunned face she said she had made at the time, DeBose explained, “I do not speak Spanish. I’m not fluent. And I thought for the longest time that made me less of what I was.”

The “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” star said that not speaking Spanish sometimes made her afraid to speak out about her identity. She remembered thinking, “maybe I shouldn’t talk about my background because perhaps I didn’t represent the community well enough.” DeBose is proudly Afro-Latina, and while her father is Puerto Rican, she is of mixed heritage, since her mother is white.

DeBose once told NBC News that growing up in North Carolina means she “lacked access” to her Latino culture, and that there are “many Latinos who don’t feel like they are close with their roots.” That being said, she explained that starring in “West Side Story” allowed her to immerse herself in the “lived experience [she] always wanted.”

Exposing her to tons of Spanish and meeting other Latinos showed her “there are many ways to be Latino in this country.” She said, “you could look like Rita [Moreno], you could look like me, you can be born into the surroundings that allow you to experience the music, to experience the food, or perhaps you were not… as a biracial Afro Latina, I have a very mixed identity. I also identify as queer.”

DeBose also said she didn’t know if her background was “good enough” to qualify for her role as Puerto Rican immigrant Anita in “West Side Story,” but was grateful to find a team that said, “you are very much enough… you are our Anita.” 

Meanwhile, surprisingly enough, Miranda also talked about certain difficulties he has felt with Spanish. Although he says he “can talk to anybody in the world in Spanish,” but he is much “slower” writing and reading it. Looking back at his childhood summers staying with his grandparents in Puerto Rico, he recalled his “total immersion time” speaking Spanish with relatives, which would even lead to him dreaming in the language.

The “Hamilton” creator connected his immersive summers in Puerto Rico with his experience writing the song “Dos Oruguitas” for “Encanto,” explaining that he knew, “this song’s gotta be in Spanish.” He said, “it required more than my conversational Spanish. It required more than what I used to get through the day in Washington Heights,” so he admitted to using his thesaurus. The result? A beautiful song, and Miranda started dreaming in Spanish again. As DeBose remarked, a true “full circle moment.”