By Sheri and Josh Flanders
Lin-Manuel Miranda, four-time Tony Award winner and writer of the musical sensations Hamilton and In The Heights, stood in front of the press at The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture (NMPRAC) in Chicago with great humility as a son of Puerto Rico to use his mega-star celebrity to bring much needed support to aid the beleaguered island in hurricane relief efforts, Nov. 1.
“I’m much more comfortable in a costume playing someone else than I am in front of this podium,” Miranda admitted. “You will never see me running for office for anything, not even dog catcher.” But Miranda realizes that his presence will bring the press, and in impish form, he exclaimed “I wanted to get Puerto Rico in the news, and ah-ha! I got you here!”
Miranda was introduced by the Executive Director of NMPRAC, Billy Ocasio Additional speakers included a doctor and nurse from Norwegian American Hospital in Humbolt Park who were leaving for a mission trip to Puerto Rico next week, and Chicago PD actor Jon Seda, who temporarily lost communication for nine days with his beloved 99-year-old grandmother who lives on the island. She is now safe, yet many grandmothers just like her are still in need and the community is coming together to help.
Miranda said his first response to anything is to write lyrics, and that writing this song is a “kind of prayer.” In the wake of hurricane Maria, Manuel reflected that “The song ‘Maria’ from West Side Story will forever have a different connotation historically,” and so he felt moved to mold that song and “flip part of it to do good.” He became acutely aware of the “terrible silence everyone in the diaspora was feeling” following the hurricane – power outages, phones, communication lines and emotions down. As a result, he challenged himself to create a bit of hope. “Can [I] put all 78 towns into a song lyrics and still make you want to dance to it and buy it?”
He called every Latino singer he knew, and many he didn’t – they all said “yes” to participating. This collaboration culminated in the tribute charity single “Almost Like Praying” featuring artists Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Camilla Cabello, Pedro Capo, Dessa, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Luis Fonsi, Juan Luis Guerra, Alex Lacamoire, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno, Ednita, Nazario, Joell Ortiz, Anthony Ramos, Gina Rodriguez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, PJ Sin Suela, Tommy Torrez and Ana Villafañe, celebrating Puerto Ricans and Miranda’s family and friends. All profits from this song benefit the Hispanic Federation UNIDOS Disaster Relief Fund which donates 100% of its fund to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
Indeed, Miranda has no trouble getting people to say “yes”, as he opened his brief talk with – “I have a date with Obama and Common later today,” referencing the Obama Foundation Summit, where the topic is “Collective Power.” In addition to Manuel, the Chicago community has come together to support Puerto Rico in a heartwarming display of collective power. Organizations partnering with NMPRAC include the Hispanic Federation, New Life Covenant Church, Norwegian American Hospital, the Puerto Rican Agenda, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, The Puerto Rican People’s Parade and other community organizations, as well as numerous restaurants, churches, individuals and even school children, contributing as little as $5 to help.
Their efforts have gone to provide four planes full of water, generators and supplies, ten shipping containers full of food and supplies, a medical mission of doctors, nurses and medicine to arrive on 11/8 and thousands of dollars of support. As a direct result of community action, at least 70 of Puerto Rico’s 78 towns have received assistance.
He says “I’d much rather be telling you about some musical I’m working on, but this is sort of the new full-time gig now, until there is a sense of normalcy on the island, this is family, this is our friends, this is who we are……this is where we’re from, this is the gig for the foreseeable future.”
As musical theater fans know that one of the political lessons Hamilton makes is about the limits of our democracy. Miranda says “…we only get to elect who we put in the room, we don’t get to say what happens in that room…If you’re not happy with how things are going, it’s super important that you vote, and super important you vote for the person who most represents your views. That’s no guarantee they will do what you say…we don’t get to be in the room where it happens.” Miranda knows that it is up to the community to bridge the gap between government and a community in need and he is ready to do his part and hopes that we will join him in purchasing “Almost Like Praying” and donating cash or supplies to the Hispanic Disaster Relief Fund.
And for those who cannot help financially? Use your voice. Miranda referenced a scandal regarding a controversial Whitefish contract where the community “jumped up and down and said ‘How are you hiring two employees to rebuild the power grid?’ And that had an effect. Your voice is not nothing; your voice, as a matter of fact, is everything.”