After a year marked by political, racial, and international upheaval, it seems like almost nothing positive can be said for 2016’s treatment of immigrants and people of color. Multiple shootings of unarmed black men have prompted almost nonstop public outrage, and the Presidential Election race has been fraught with cruel and caustic remarks about immigrants.
But amidst all this, a voice arose to defend immigrants, celebrate their contributions to U.S. society, and demand positive immigration reform. This voice? 11-time Tony winning Broadway musical, Hamilton.
Set in America’s Revolutionary and post-war eras, Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s lesser-known founding fathers, through a combination of opera, pop, and hip-hop. In an election year that has been particularly brutal on immigrants, Hamilton’s strong pro-immigrant message couldn’t have come at a better time. Here are 5 ways in which Hamilton celebrates US immigration.
It was written by an immigrant’s son
Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, grew up in a Latino neighborhood in Washington D.C. His father spoke little English when he left Puerto Rico for America at age 17. Miranda has stated in interviews that his cultural heritage strongly influenced his affinity for Alexander Hamilton, who was born and raised in the West Indies. “I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood. We knew the rule is, you’re going to work twice as hard,” Miranda has said. “I said to myself, I know this guy, and he’s not going to let me go. And he didn’t let me go for seven years.”
It features color-blind casting
All of American’s founding fathers were white men. But that fact didn’t stop Miranda from casting almost every Hamilton character with a black, Asian, or Latino actor. The play’s inclusive casting has been applauded in an age where diversity in all forms of media is much sought-after, especially on Broadway. By re-imagining George Washington, Aaron Burr, and the Marquis de Lafayette as men of color, Hamilton honors America’s legacy as a diverse, inclusive country comprised of multiple races and ethnicities.
It’s a true “bootstraps” story
One of Americans’ favorite stories—particularly beloved by certain politicians—is the “bootstraps” narrative, in which a young, penniless outcast who comes from nothing manages to make something of himself through hard work and determination. In Hamilton, the story is actually true. Alexander Hamilton genuinely was an impoverished, orphaned boy who rose from ignominy to become George Washington’s right-hand man. Unlike certain people who simply inherited a small loan of a million dollars, Hamilton truly did manage to make his mark on history in the face of impossible odds. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “In a year when politicians traffic in anti-immigrant rhetoric, there is also a Broadway musical reminding us that a broke, orphaned immigrant from the West Indies built our financial system.”
It recognizes impact of immigrants on America
The character of Hamilton consistently reminds the audience throughout the show that he wants to have an impact on his adopted country, with lines like, “God help and forgive me, I want to build something that’s going to outlive me.” The play also addresses, albeit briefly, the existence of American slavery during the Revolutionary War. Lines like “we know who’s really doing the planting” allude to the fact that much of America’s infrastructure, agriculture, and economy was actually built by slaves–reminding the audience how important immigrants truly were in building this country.
It’s politically relevant
Hamilton arrived in the midst of a national conversation about immigration that seems to constantly deny and dehumanize the American immigration experience. For this reason, the play is part musical, part protest. Many songs are rallying cries for reform and revolution, with lines like, “we’ll never be truly free/until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.” The line “why do you write like you’re running out of time?” could almost be addressed to immigration activists and allies struggling to stop families from being split by deportation.
In a time when politicians are saying things like “We’re rounding ‘em up in a very human way, in a very nice way,” in reference to immigrants, Hamilton reminds us that immigrants built this country from the very beginning. It inspires hope and a belief in the American dream that is far different than the whitewashed version so often painted in American history textbooks.
Listen to Hamilton–And Contact an NC Immigration Lawyer
If you haven’t yet listened to Hamilton, the entire soundtrack can be streamed for free here. A very lucky few will be able to purchase tickets for Hamilton’s national tour, which you can read about here. If you’re an immigrant ready to become a citizen of this country just like Alexander Hamilton did, contact a professional immigration lawyer near you today to get started.