The cultural significance of ‘Hamilton’s’ diverse cast

“This is the story of America then, told by America now.”

6:00 pm EST, October 10, 2015

They were rebels and geniuses. Free-thinkers full of contradictions. They were ballsy, educated, and entitled— and they set the world on fire, believing they could create a new kind of country.

The Founding Fathers loom large in our American history. After all, they managed to set up a system of government that, for the most part, still holds up almost two-hundred and fifty years later. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”— we read their words and still want to believe in that kind of world-altering idealism.

Hamilton

As a woman of color and a descendant of immigrants, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the Founding Father narrative. I devoured the soap opera histories surrounding both their personal and political lives, and respected the way that they beat the odds to seemingly create a lasting nation through sheer force of will. The world was waiting for them to fail, but they chose to push through and fight and write and scream and claw their way towards the completion of a country, bickering with each other the entire way there because they understood that the stakes were so incredibly high. This is what the founding of our country stands for, I wanted to believe: the idea that anything is possible if you only have the tenacity and brilliance to make it happen.

And yet, a part of me also understands that there is an inherent separation between this formative time in our history and me. As a woman of color, regardless of my own abilities, I would never have had a place in “the room where it happens.” I’m forced to recognize that our American history is fraught with both pride and terror. And that just as these men fought for their freedom, they also denied the most basic rights to others. In other words: as much as I identify with the Founding Fathers, they didn’t know that they were fighting for me.

But history belongs to those who write it, and with the hit Broadway show Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda is rewriting the Founding Father narrative to purposefully reflect the kind of country we live in today. Choosing to cast the founders of our country as people of color may not be “historically” accurate, but it is culturally accurate as a reflection of a 21st century nation built by immigrants. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of history suddenly becomes an inclusive one, inviting every American to see his or herself reflected in the story of the Founding Fathers.

Hamilton and Jefferson

As the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Lin-Manuel Miranda undoubtedly understood Alexander Hamilton’s struggle to rise above expectations and prove himself in a new place. Within the musical, Alexander Hamilton’s life is lauded as the ultimate immigrant story, and yet we also witness how no matter how much he thrives, men who fear his power and vision of the future continue to hold his roots against him by taking cheap shots at his heritage. At his boldest Hamilton facetiously declares, “Immigrants: we get the job done.” But on a personal level, the line that is most striking is one of his first— “He looked at me like I was stupid; I’m not stupid.”

That incessant struggle to prove one’s own self-worth is at the heart of the Founding Father narrative, and with Hamilton’s diverse cast, it becomes a parallel to the struggle that every immigrant goes through as well, especially when living amidst a political climate that still struggles to address the uncomfortable issues surrounding race. Hamilton is about taking back the original narrative to universalize it for the kind of America our country has grown into today.

Hamilton cast

What cultural impact has ‘Hamilton’ had on you?

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