A few months ago I was lucky enough to have my SO take his mom and me to see Hamilton. I have been on the Hamilton train since it opened and I couldn’t wait to see it. So when my SO said that he got us tickets for our anniversary back in November I was SO EXCIIIITE. It was a bittersweet time for me because it was a few days after the grand jury decided the officer who murdered Philando Castille wouldn’t be charged so I was in my emotions. I had been going through a series of emotions: anger, rage, hate and guilt. It felt like mainstream society would never understand how hard it is for people of color to survive here, particularly black men, in this country we are supposed to be so proud of. Too often it seems like people of color, especially black men, are paying a toll for living in this country with their lives. For lack of a better description, I felt really hopeless. I felt like no one could truly understand how it felt to be a person of color in this country and how absolutely terrifying something like driving a car could be for a non-white person. Needless to say, I had a lot of emotions swirling inside of me pre-Hamilton that I hadn’t quite dealt with so it felt almost perfectly timed that I was getting to see this show.
Now I’m not going to give any spoilers in here if you haven’t see the show (GO SEE IT) and if you have then you’ll understand when I say that I cried. Not at the end, not in the middle-the entire time. I started crying about 10 minutes in, holding in audible sobs unable to control tears and it lasted until I took a break at intermission. At some point before intermission my boyfriend realized I had been silently crying in my seat, squeezed my hand and whispered slightly embarrassed, “why are you crying? nothing sad is happening?” I responded half laughing half crying, “I don’t know I just feel so moved, so emotional I can’t stop.” Then came intermission and the lights came on and my boyfriend asked me again, “babe what’s wrong why are you still crying?” and suddenly all of the things I was feeling attempted to morph into words and I tried to explain to him the best I could… The cast on the stage was 85% people of color. The audience was 85% white. The lead, Alexander Hamilton, was hispanic and his accent, sounded like mine, my dad’s, my brother’s, my cousins’ and my friends. The accent my dad calls his “Mexican accent.” The accent that I have been made fun of for. The accent that pops out when I have a few too many drinks. The accent that rears its head when I get too emotional. The accent that I consciously suppress everyday at work and on the phone. Yes, that accent was on stage, coming through a microphone, from the lead’s voice at a show running in Chicago on Broadway and he sounded like me, on purpose.
George Washington was black. He was a tall, handsome black man. The other main characters were black too. The majority of the chorus, black or brown. There were a few white actors too. But more importantly the majority of people on that stage were black or brown and something inside of me felt a sense of happiness and welcoming that I’ve never felt before in a setting that wasn’t built for or by people of color. It was an emotion that was so overwhelming to me, something I’d never felt before. I felt so emotional thinking of all the kids that got to watch this show in New York City for free because of Lin’s generosity (I don’t know if I can call him Lin but I just did because I feel like we’ve connected on a personal level since I saw this show, so yeah he’s Lin to me!). And I just thought of all the kids, black and brown kids who are in the performing arts and who got to see themselves up there. They got to see themselves on Broadway. They didn’t get to see a part being played by an actor that didn’t look or sound like them and have to imagine with all of their imagination’s power that that could one day be them, they got to see themselves. I thought of the other black and brown kids who weren’t in the arts but that went to that theater in the City and heard and saw people that looked like them on a stage that grand in a city even grander. They saw themselves represented up there and for once their dreams to do more, to be more didn’t seem so far fetched. So yeah, I cried. A lot.
At one point the three older black women sitting in front of me heard me trying to explain this to my boyfriend during intermission and they turned back, smiled, wiped their tears and turned back around. They got it too.
The show finished and everyone else decided to copy me and join the crying movement but it had nothing to do with what the cast looked or sounded like, those tears were probably because of the story. What happened? How did the show end? I mean google it, but that’s not the beautiful part. The beauty of this show is hip hop music samples, a rap musical with a cast that if you haven’t gotten it by now is full of people of color! And I don’t think one person in the theater had a hard time believing that George Washington was any less GW because he was being played by a black actor or that Alexander Hamilton was any less AH because he was played by a Hispanic actor. Because surprisingly it’s less about the the actors’ race and more about their talent that makes the part believable. Believe it or not but talent that belongs on Broadway and that talent exists in all races, we just don’t get to see it nearly enough.
We got in the car on the way home and I couldn’t stop raving about how amazing the show was, the casting mostly. Later on that evening I was trying to explain to my boyfriend the significance of the cast’s diversity and it just wasn’t clicking. Listen, I get it, white people, men in particular are represented everywhere–entertainment, professional fields, media, government, etc., so it was probably hard to grasp how emotional it could be to see people that look like you represented on such a large scale because that’s not out of the ordinary to white men. But this casting, it made me think back to being a little kid telling my mom I wanted to be a lawyer but only seeing women like me portrayed as housekeepers, vixens and housewives, never professionals. It made it hard for me to picture myself as a lawyer and for a long time my journey felt never ending. It took a lot of soul searching and identity crisis to try and find who I was supposed to be as this professional and who to model myself as because there were no examples. I haven’t quite gotten there but I’m on my way. But, here’s the thing, these kids who have seen and will see this play don’t have to use their imagination anymore. It all plays out right there right in front of them. People just like them can be on stage too, or anywhere really and it’s not just in their imagination anymore, it’s real.
So thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda. From me, from all the kids of color and their parents who have had a chance to see this and for everyone else who’s seen it and didn’t realize that there was so much more to the show than what you got to see.
I wrote this post a few weeks ago before all of the hurricanes hit and before 45 showed again how despicable he is. Before wonderful people like Lin Manuel Miranda had to step up and save lives in Puerto Rico. So besides being thankful for Hamilton, I want to extend my thanks for his response to the disaster in Puerto Rico too. Without him and various other people stepping forward and picking up the ball our government embarrassingly dropped who knows how the American Citizens in Puerto Rico would be right now. So thank you for that and for this and for what is to come.