Photo by SARAH HANASHIRO
by CELINE PHU
It’s the Broadway musical everyone has been talking about: the dramatic story of the nonstop, “ten dollar Founding Father without a father,” who is most famous for losing a fateful duel against Aaron Burr.
It’s a story that just blows us all away, leaves us helpless and satisfied at the same time, and with which I have been obsessed for months, ever since it was released on Spotify and YouTube back in September. Such has been its influence on me that at times, I can be found randomly singing and rapping the show’s lyrics. Yet my personal connection with Hamilton goes much further.
Last year, I participated in History Day with my best friend. This research class encourages teams to work together to present a project on a famous person or event. We elected to create a documentary on Alexander Hamilton and spent months poring over documents, letters and books. During our research, our excitable APUSH teacher, Mr. Kim, showed me a video of a young artist, then unknown to me, named Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Officially no relation, but in my imagination we will meet one day, and he will adopt me as his younger brother.)
He was performing a rap song he had composed about Hamilton’s childhood at the White House, in front of Barack and Michelle Obama. While at first I looked upon it with disdain, I was intrigued, and I could not get the melody out of my head; then the musical was released.
Let me say, for the record, that I am generally not a big fan of rap, hip-hop, or R&B. I have never really listened to it, because it just wasn’t my type of music. Yet this musical changed me: the words were brilliant, the lyrics were taken from actual letters Hamilton wrote, the rhymes were clever and the wordplay amazing. The cast itself is unusually diverse: Hamilton, played by Miranda, is Hispanic; George Washington, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson are played by black actors (Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom and Daveed Diggs, respectively). The flowery stories of historical events that made my APUSH class fall asleep came alive, influenced by not only Rodgers & Hammerstein, but by Tupac, Beyoncé and Kanye.
After my first listen-through, which lasted two hours, I was so captivated that I clicked “Play All” again, and thus began my six-month-long musical obsession.
* * *
Something that is not very apparent to most people is that Hamilton was first and foremost a writer. I see a certain fitting irony that the achievements for which we most know him are being on the $10 bill and serving as Secretary of the Treasury, a position more associated with numbers and data than words and books.
Lin-Manuel Miranda once said that the greatness of Hamilton stems from the fact that even though he began life in an impoverished, broken family, he rose to power and fame on the strength of his writing. As a teenager, he wrote romantic poetry, musing and agonizing over girls both real and idealistic. As a college student, he became very invested in politics, writing essays about the Revolution. As a husband, he built “palaces out of paragraphs” in his love letters to his beloved wife, Eliza. And as a diplomat, he wrote the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution from those who wanted to have it nullified.
Hamilton represents everything I value and hope to achieve. While I am not a penniless orphan whose family is broken apart and my childhood was not tragic, the ideals he stood for—rising up and making a difference, being self-reliant—are principles I stand for as well. His legacy is secured and now enhanced by the knowledge of his life that Lin-Manuel Miranda has brought to the forefront of Broadway and all over the world for audiences to embrace.