America is Learning to Recognize Itself in the Mirror

Hamilton is a maddeningly good piece of work. For the three months since I first heard the musical, its melodies have been on rotation in my head, the term “the orphanage” has developed a Pavlovian capacity to make me tear up, and when I think of Thomas Jefferson now I can only see a towering mixed-race man with a scraggly afro dancing around in matching purple waistcoat and breeches. I’m not the only one who has been taken with the play though; Hamilton is sold out for the foreseeable future and its official cast recording is smashing all kinds of sales records. Having reached perhaps the apex of popularity for a musical, its cast was recently invited to perform at the White House, whose current occupant family can be counted among the musical’s fans.

It is absolutely no stretch to say that Hamilton has captured the country’s collective imagination, and that is no surprise, on account of how singularly American the story of its protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, is (to say nothing of the infectiousness of its musical numbers).The man was born a poor orphan in the Caribbean, and after immigrating to the Thirteen Colonies, rose to the upper echelons of a nascent US government with only tenacity and intellect as his tools. The narrative resonates with Americans, but in addition to that, the delivery is supremely illuminating as far as history and shared culture go. The fresh twist that Hamilton brings to the nation’s life story is that all of the songs the Americans in the play perform are hip-hop, and every major figure is portrayed as a person of color. What many theater-goers may not have expected of the play is that these aesthetic touches fit the narrative like a glove.

Hip-hop is a music of the downtrodden, and that culture’s more energetic elements serve as perfect suppliers of anthems that testify to the angst, revelry, and rebellion inherent in the story of the American Revolution. It is a culture native and unique to the American experience. More importantly, though, is that how natural it is to see the period’s figures as black, Latino, and Asian-American, and to watch them partake so easily in such culture, serves to underscore the real profundity of Hamilton: the American experience as cultural mythology truly does belong to the whole of our society.

The bootstraps narrative of a poor immigrant’s rise through skill and spirit- and all the friendships, rivalries, and heartbreak he accrues in the process- resonate with a much wider array of American identities than the ones that were present at the Continental Congress, the ease with which Hamilton came together proves as much. While the actual politics of the era may have been lily-white, the stories and ideals they have produced are not. In the age of Obama, it is refreshing to see the culture at large acknowledge the level of universality in our history, and for a certain anthropology student of mixed race, it is both fascinating and heartening to watch America come to terms with the fact that every swath of the nation’s heritage does, in fact, deserve recognition.

(If you haven’t yet, you should acquaint yourself with this masterwork of a play.)

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “America is Learning to Recognize Itself in the Mirror”

  1. Firstly, let me start out by saying that, as a fellow lover of Hamilton, I was beyond excited to see that someone had written a blog post about this incredible musical. It’s a groundbreaking work for many reasons, not the least of which is its celebration of diversity in the casting. One of your remarks particularly stood out to me, when you say: “The bootstraps narrative of a poor immigrant’s rise through skill and spirit- and all the friendships, rivalries, and heartbreak he accrues in the process- resonate with a much wider array of American identities than the ones that were present at the Continental Congress, the ease with which Hamilton came together proves as much.” I wholeheartedly agree with you, and it brings to mind intriguing questions: If it’s true that the values America claims to hold dear apply to a spectrum of diverse identities, then why is our society so resolute on maintaining whiteness? If we can love and admire a musical that represents a variety of diverse identities, why can’t we do the same with film, literature, or even politics? One example of this is this year’s Oscars, which was severely lacking diversity. I surely hope that the Academy and the film industry in general follows the impressive example that Hamilton sets for representation on the stage, and that this increased representation soon spreads to other aspects of our culture. Moreover, I also hope that Hamilton starts a trend of breaking down the stereotypical racial and gender norms that have permeated our culture for far too long– the star of the show does not have to be white, nor do the women have to be voiceless.

    Like

  2. KYAAAA I LOVE Hamilton!! Hamilton is a big move- in my eyes- for black representation in the theatrical world. Besides the Lion King- which depicts the stereotypical idea of “Black people in Africa” -Hamilton gives a new view on Black figures so seeing black people in a more positive lens:educated, determined, powerful etc. Also, the musical choice brings in today’s young black youth to find things they can find interest in and find inspiration.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s