Why Hamilton is so important to the Latino community
Hamilton is reinventing history yet again, this time by breaking the record for most Tony Award nominations, with a total of 16 nominations, sweeping almost every category. This isn’t just a win for the show’s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, but also for Latin Americans who identify with the musical’s fusion concept.
If a high school history textbook could make a baby with the Lyricist Lounge, that baby’s name would be Hamilton. The breakout Broadway hit is an accurate history lesson in that it tells the story of America’s founding fathers, but the actors playing George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton — played by Miranda — are all black and Latino. And the accompanying music — which Miranda composed — isn’t exactly classical. It is hip-hop.
Miranda — of In the Heights fame — says he first got his inspiration for the musical when writing a high school paper about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s 1804 battle, and saw a parallel between that and old-school rap rivalries. “It’s a hip-hop story,” Miranda told The New York Times. “It’s Tupac.”
This is huge for all minorities. For Latinos who are first-generation Americans like myself, this is our nation’s story being told, and now we can actually see ourselves personified in it for the first time — the same can be said for biracial people and African Americans. To see our skin tones be represented in roles other than slaves and low-wage workers is revolutionary.
“Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional,” says Miranda, who was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents. “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.”
The idea of it all seems to resonate with just about everyone — even the president and first lady.
Miranda and some of Hamilton’s cast recently performed an excerpt from the play at a White House event. As Michelle Obama spoke about seeing it for the first time off-Broadway, she referred to Hamilton as “the best piece of art in form that I have ever seen in my life.”
But besides earning the respect and praise of Mrs. Obama, Miranda was also awarded with the Pulitzer Prize for drama last month, making him the third Latino writer to win a Pulitzer in that category in its 100 years.
Miranda is proof Latinos can achieve the American Dream, even if they are already American.