In the Heights star Anthony Ramos has always been proud of his Puerto Rican roots. Now, the actor and musician is opening up even further about his own experience of being Latino in Hollywood and how it’s impacted his self-care practices.
In a new interview with actress Becky G, Ramos speaks on why the “machismo” mindset is hurting men of color, his journey towards finding therapy and how he believes the industry tokenizes Latino performers.
Ramos describes his upbringing in the Brooklyn projects as "exhausting," having spent much of it looking over his shoulder for "threats" — an experience he ultimately carried with him into adulthood.
“I think there's something special to growing up that way, not having a lot, and really leaning on love,” Ramos reflected. “You know, you can't lean on money 'cause you ain't got it. You can't lean on things 'cause you don't have a lot, so you gotta always be looking, like, ‘Where’s the threat?’”
“It’s draining,” Becky G chimed in, adding that “those are things that manifest when living in ‘fight or flight’ that a lot of our youth grows up in.”
“A lot of men grow up in homes [where] there's this machismo kinda thing that we gotta have or that we learn that we need to have,” Ramos explained. “You know, you gotta protect, you gotta be the man of the house, or whatever. But it's like, what even is that?”
That’s why he says he’s “leaned into” therapy more recently, which he credits for teaching him “patience.” An even bigger outlet for Ramos, he added, is music.
“There's nothing that I love to do more than write songs,” he said. “I think writing songs and the art of writing songs and the journey that it takes to get from having nothing on the page or in your phone to then arriving at something at the end of the session, for me, is the most exhilarating thing.”
Despite the fact that he has been part of groundbreaking projects highlighting Latino stories — including the original cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton as well as the film version of In the Heights, which received criticism from Latino audiences for lacking Afro-Latino representation — Ramos says he's felt tokenized by music executives for simply being Latino.
“It’s so crazy,” he explained. “You make the record of your life. You're like, ‘Yo, I cannot write a better group of songs than this.’ And then a streaming platform will say or somebody working or some company was like, ‘But he's Latin. Why he don't make Latin music?’ And you’re like, what? Or ‘If he did that, we would lean into him more.’ I've heard this.”
“It hurts,” he continued. “Because you're like, ‘Yo, man, like, this is the best stuff I've ever written.’ But then, like, you got an executive here, this person there, telling me, ‘If you leaned in this way more, you'd be more marketable.’ And I'm like, ‘Yo, but this is what I'm leaning into. This is what I'm doing. This is coming from my heart. This is what's pouring outta me when I step into the studio. So you want me to just write whatever is more marketable but you don't want me to just say what's inside of me, which is actually probably what people wanna feel and wanna hear anyway?’”
Aside from acting, Ramos has always made time to release music — including one EP, The Freedom EP (2018) and two studio albums: The Good & the Bad (2019) and Love and Lies (2021), both of which live under the R&B, hip-hop and pop umbrellas.
Oftentimes, he explained, people tell him "this is what you need to be doing because this is where we see you [as a Latino artist]. This is the box you're in."
That's why Ramos chooses roles that convey positive messages for Latinx youth.
On HBO's In Treatment, for example, he plays Eladio, a live-in caregiver seeking therapy. He said the role has encouraged young Latinos to seek therapy themselves, underlying the importance of such stories on screen.
“Growing up of Puerto Rican descent in Brooklyn in New York, like, in the hood, it was very like, ‘Nah, we don't need therapy. We good. We got each other,’” he explained. “I was, like, ‘Yo, like, nah, like, it's OK to be vulnerable. It's alright to not be hard.’”
“I also want a lot of these Latinx kids, I want kids all over the world to be like, ‘Yo, nah, we not just — we're not the box that Hollywood has put us in for years. We can be so much more,” he said. “We can be, you know, intelligent therapy patients, right? We can be the therapists. We can be all of that. Just because we haven't seen ourselves like that on TV or in movies doesn't mean we can't be that. We just have to be the first.”