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‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda takes on new role as activist for Puerto Rico

Lin-Manuel Miranda has a new role: as an emerging political activist. The Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, composer and actor is calling on Congress to do more to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island two months ago. Miranda sits down with John Yang to explain what the island means to him and everything he’s doing to help.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, one of the shining lights of Broadway brings his star power to Washington and the cause of the people of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

    John Yang has this report.

  • John Yang:

    In Washington last weekend, Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda was on a different kind of stage, leading a march calling on Congress to help Puerto Rico recover.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    The compassion of the American people is real and it is still here. And if the government would meet us where we already are, that would be really an incredible thing.

  • John Yang:

    For the creator and star of "Hamilton" and "In the Heights," it's a new, emerging role: political activist.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    Oh, I'm so uncomfortable in the space. You can't — I can't tell you how much I would rather be writing a new musical right now.

    But this is where we are. And we're two months after Hurricane Maria. Many of the needs of the 3.5 million American citizens on the island are still not being met, basic needs like water and electricity.

    I'm here because we need to be here, and we need to continue to amplify the needs of the island.

  • John Yang:

    Miranda's connection to Puerto Rico is strong. His parents were born there, and, as a child, he spent a month every year there visiting his grandparents.

    When the hurricane hit, how did it affect you?

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    I will always remember the terrible silence that followed. That's what Puerto Ricans who weren't in Puerto Rico experienced, was days and days of silence from the island.

    My social media feeds and my phone became this roll call of towns.

    "Has anyone heard from Lares?" "My grandmother lives in Vega Alta." "My son works in Ponce."

  • John Yang:

    That roll call inspired a song to raise money for hurricane relief. Called "Almost Like Praying," its lyrics call out all 78 cities and towns on the island, including Vega Alta, his grandparents' home.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    I get a sense of pride when I hear those words in a song, and that's what I was hoping I would do for all Puerto Ricans.

    The notion that these are 21 artists of our brightest lights in the Latino community, everyone from Marc Anthony, to Gloria Estefan, to Fat Joe, to Jennifer Lopez, and everyone in between, and the notion that no town goes unsung, and the notion that, oh, my God, Luis Fonsi sang my town's name, and the feeling of pride that comes with that.

  • John Yang:

    The song was also inspired by West Side Story's "Maria."

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    That's like my favorite song from West Side Story. I knew it would have a different connotation forever.

  • John Yang:

    The idea that you're calling out Maria, in a way, and it was Maria that delivered the final blow to Puerto Rico.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    For Puerto Ricans now, there is the time before Hurricane Maria and the time after. It was a way of taking a couple of lines from that song and flipping it.

    And I isolated the phrase "almost like praying" because that's what we always send in the wake of a tragedy, right, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers. But thoughts and prayers are really not enough to get the job done.

  • John Yang:

    Miranda visited Puerto Rico earlier this month, helping distribute aid, meeting the U.S. Coast Guard, which Alexander Hamilton created, and visiting what's left of his grandparents' house.

    What was it like to see the island after the storms hit, and what was it like to go back to Vega Alta?

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    It's very surreal. There's so many sections still without power.

    The gas situation has eased, but the electricity situation is still touch and go, and we are at the two-month anniversary of the hurricane right now, so that's maddening. That's maddening.

  • John Yang:

    Puerto Rico is very much on Miranda's mind these days, as last week, when he received the Latin Grammy's President's Merit Award.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico!

  • John Yang:

    The son of a Democratic consultant, Miranda has largely avoided politics.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    I grew up with my dad running political campaigns. I know what goes into it. I have seen how the sausage gets made. That's not interesting to me.

  • John Yang:

    But in the days after Hurricane Maria, he seemed to find his voice in a big way. When President Trump criticized the San Juan mayor, he fired back, "You're going straight to hell."

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    I'm pretty good with words. Those were the only ones I had left at my disposal. I'm accustomed to presidents on either side of the political spectrum uniting us in the face of natural disasters.

    I have never seen a president say that the victims of a natural disaster weren't doing enough for themselves, or attack an elected official on the front line of such a disaster.

  • John Yang:

    Miranda will also try to help Puerto Rico in a more familiar way. He's taking "Hamilton" to San Juan in early 2019, and returning to the role of Alexander Hamilton for the first time since originating it on Broadway.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda:

    In the wake of the tragedy of Hurricane Maria and everything after, it felt all the more important to say, listen, we have planted this flag in the sand. It's a year and three months from now, but we have faith, and we have to work to make sure Puerto Rico is ready.

  • John Yang:

    And doing everything he can to make it happen.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm John Yang in Washington.

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