Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pledge to Restore Puerto Rico’s Arts Community

Artwork by Audrey Valbuena

Artwork by Audrey Valbuena

By Montserrat Vazquez-Posada

In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and devastated the island. About 3,000 civilians died, and thousands more were left to deal with a destroyed infrastructure and political unresponsiveness. With over $70 billion in public debt, the government could no longer escape a financial crisis that has been developing since the 1970s. Lin-Manuel Miranda did not turn a blind eye.

Miranda, the mastermind behind “Hamilton,” was born to Luz Towns and Luis A. Miranda, Jr., who are both from Puerto Rico. While he was born and raised in New York City, Miranda and his sister spent summers as kids in Vega Alta, P.R., where his father was born. “I believe I owe a great deal of who I am to this island,” Miranda said in an article by The New York Times. In a time where the word “immigrant” leaves a sour taste in the mouths of countless Americans, Miranda pays tribute to the immigrant experience with “Hamilton” and his other award-winning musical “In the Heights.” Both Alexander Hamilton and Usnavi de la Vega – the protagonist of “In the Heights” – navigate what it means to be on the outskirts of the American Dream.

Earlier this year, Miranda gave back to the place that gave him inspiration. In a philanthropic effort to raise money for the Flamboyan Arts Fund, Miranda decided to take “Hamilton” to Puerto Rico for a 17-day run.  

To raise the $15 million the production generated, several thousand tickets were sold at $5,000 each. While this was a fund-raising effort, bringing “Hamilton” to the island was also an opportunity to perform for Puerto Ricans who might otherwise never have been able to see the Tony-dominating musical; for this reason, a quarter of the tickets were sold for $10.

The Flamboyan Foundation partnered with Miranda and his family in an effort to preserve the Puerto Rican arts community. Together, they created the Arts Fund to support the artists and rebuild the organizations devastated by Hurricane Maria. Profits from the Arts Fund are donated to theaters and arts education programs that are at risk of cutting back services or closing completely due to reductions in government support. The theater at the University of Puerto Rico, for example, was badly damaged by the hurricane; repairs to the theater was one of the Fund’s first philanthropic goals. All areas of the island need healing, but keeping the creative culture alive gives the vibrant community an opportunity to piece itself back together through a shared appreciation of art.

Image Courtesy of the New York Times

Image Courtesy of the New York Times

The 3-week run was the first time Miranda had played Alexander Hamilton since his final Broadway show in July 2016. Miranda told the New York Times that, almost three years later, some moments of the musical proved to be just as emotional for him in Puerto Rico as it had been the first time he had performed in New York.

“Hurricane” was one song that Miranda said particularly stirred his emotions. The song was written about a tropical storm that hit St. Croix in 1772, which prompted Alexander Hamilton to write a letter from the island of Nevis to his father in the American colonies. Hamilton closely detailed the catastrophic aftermath of the storm, saying it was “the most dreadful hurricane that memory or any records whatever can trace.” His letter was published in a local newspaper, and Hamilton’s powerful words moved readers to start a fund in hopes that they could send the teenager to New York where he could receive a proper education. In the musical, Hamilton reminisces on this formative moment in his life, repeating the line, “I wrote my way out.” He acknowledges the impact his words had on the local community, as well as his ability to overcome a poverty-ridden life in St. Croix despite his unlikely odds.

It’s no wonder “Hurricane” struck a chord with Miranda. 200 years later,the damage done to St. Croix sounds all too familiar. The damage done by Hurricane Maria is estimated at over $100 billion when it hit in September 2017, and the island continues to be without full power for over 550 days. With such widespread destruction, it’s difficult to pinpoint one solution. Regardless, Miranda is on the right track. By allowing the island’s cultural life to continue to thrive, the Flamboyan Arts Fund recognizes the power and impact behind helping the arts community flourish.

In addition to his dedication to help heal the arts community, Miranda has also expressed his desire to help others suffering from the effects of Hurricane Maria. Less than a month after the storm, Miranda collaborated with other Hispanic artists to produce the song “Almost Like Praying” to raise funds for The Hispanic Federation’s Unidos Disaster Relief Fund. In 2018, he announced a philanthropic effort to help coffee farmers whose crops were damaged by the hurricane.

There’s no doubt that Puerto Rico holds a special place in Miranda’s heart, and with the best resources available to him right now, it’s clear that he is not throwing away his shot. In the aftermath of catastrophe, time is of the essence. Puerto Rico cannot rebuild itself on its own; it needs advocates like Miranda who have the tools and the drive to help the island. Puerto Rico cannot be out of sight, out of mind; the islanders are not second-class citizens. They deserve to be treated with basic human dignity because they are just as part of America as the mainland is, and we as a country should take Miranda as inspiration in how to show compassion to our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters.