Seeing the Broadway musical Hamilton in New York was without a doubt the highlight of our January trip to New York City. However, it is not for everybody. First of all, you had better practice your listening comprehension before you invest in a ticket. Most of the music is rap. That’s not always easy to understand, even for a native speaker and especially for a senior citizen like me. And second of all, you should be sympathetic to racial equality and the rise of mixed race citizens and immigrants in the U.S. Almost all the Hamilton cast is African American or mixed-race.
The playwright, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a native New Yorker and, besides being a playwright, he is songwriter, rapper, and theater actor. He was born in 1980, and grew up in a musical-oriented family in Manhattan. For those of us who live outside the U.S., we may have seen his name mentioned as the co-writer of the Disney movie Moana, or for winning a Pulitzer Prize, three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacArthur Fellowship or three Tony Awards. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the book, the music and the lyrics for the Broadway hit, Hamilton. And he also starred in the title-role.
His is not a rags-to-riches story; it seems he had a normal childhood and attended a good university. However, Miranda spent summers in Puerto Rico with his grandparents. His unusual name was inspired by a poem about the Viet Nam War written by a Puerto Rican poet. Lin-Manuel Miranda is of mixed ethnicity, in case you are curious. In keeping with the times, he once posted his DNA test results on his Twitter page, and it reported that he is 62.9% European, 19.4% East Asian & Native American, 9.7% Sub-Saharan African, 2.7% Middle Eastern & North African, and 5.4% unassigned. This mix created one of the most talented persons in America.
When Miranda got married in 2010, he surprised his bride, Vanessa, during their reception when he sang a Broadway song from a 1960s musical, Fiddler on the Roof, together with his new father-in-law and just abo ut the whole bridal party. You can see and hear Jewish references in the song and dance, because the musical Fiddler was about a Jewish family that lived in a little village in Russia. Lin-Manuel Miranda was the youngest person to ever be awarded an honorary degree from Yeshiva University. Vanessa, BTW, has a degree in chemical engineering from MIT and a law degree from Fordham University. You can easily find a YouTube of his wedding reception surprise on Internet.
The Broadway hit, Hamilton, was first conceived when Lin-Manuel Miranda read the book, Alexander Hamilton, by Pulitzer winning biographer and historian Ron Chernow. Actually, Miranda said he never expected to even finish the book, much less fall in love with it. But he did. Alexander Hamilton is a biography about a man who is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. The Founding Fathers were the seven immigrants or descendants of immigrants who led the American Revolution against the Kingdom of Great Britain. They were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington.
The historical figure Alexander Hamilton was born sometime between 1773 and 1775, and was an immigrant from the British island of Nevis in the West Indies. Hamilton’s childhood had not been easy, as his mother Rachel, who was of French descent, was not married to Alexander Hamilton’s father at the time of his birth. He was the second bastard son that his parents produced. Rachel, Hamilton’s mother, had been married off as a teenager to an older man, but there was no love between them. She accused him of abuse, and he accused her of adultery and actually managed to put her in prison because of this accusation. He thought it might make her more appreciative of the home and protection he offered her. But instead of weakening her, prison time strengthened her and she left him as soon as she was released. She also left her baby behind and she and her mother fled to a neighboring island, Saint Kitts. It was there that she met James Hamilton, another European who had gone to the West Indies to make his fortune in sugar, and from there they went to Nevis, where Alexander and his brother James were born. Rachel’s new husband was never successful and the family moved to the Danish island of St. Croix in 1765, where James often worked odd jobs to make ends meet. When Alexander was 10 years old, his father simply left the family, and Alexander Hamilton never saw him again.
Rachel, who carried a certain stigma since her first husband had divorced her and had her officially declared a whore, supported them by running a small shop and hiring out her five female slaves. Alexander Hamilton and his brother James were not allowed to attend the local school because of their illegitimacy. But a Jewish teacher privately tutored them. Rachel owned 34 books, and using the books, Alexander began to self-educate himself. He got a job clerking in an import-export business and so highly impressed the owner with his intelligence and ambition that he was soon put in charge. The company dealt in everything that the sugar plantations needed, and Hamilton absorbed the principles of international trade, credit and foreign exchange. He may have dealt in slave trade also, as that was one of the company’s businesses. At that time, St. Croix had a population of 24,000 inhabitants, but only 2,000 of them were white. Most historians agree that Hamilton’s distaste for slavery came from his observation of the practices on the island at that time in his life. Tragedy struck and in 1768 the boys’ mother died of yellow fever, 3 years after their father had left them. A cousin took in the two boys, but he committed suicide 18 months later and there were no other relatives to help the orphans.
After Rachel died, her first husband showed up and took the few valuables that she had owned, included the precious books. Many of the things that Rachel’s first husband took were auctioned off right there in the town, and a friend bought the 34 books and returned them to the boys. Alexander’s employer took him in, and the boys did have some contact with their birth father through correspondence. As a matter of fact, it was a letter that Alexander Hamilton wrote to his father that gained him attention in St. Croix. The letter was a detailed account of a hurricane that had devastated the island in 1772, and it ended up being published in the local newspaper. The letter not only recounted the hurricane, it was also written as if it were a sermon; the teenage Hamilton wrote that he saw the hurricane as a “divine rebuke to human vanity and pomposity.” The letter impressed the town so much that a group of wealthy men in St. Croix got together and sent the phenomenal Alexander to a New Jersey school to further his education.
Most of you readers have seen a U.S. 10-dollar bill, and some of you may know that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s face on it. It would probably be useful for your general education to learn more about the man on the 10-dollar bill, although if you have read this far, you already have quite a bit of background to enjoy the Broadway musical, Hamilton. But there will be more on Hamilton the man and Hamilton the musical . . .
Betsy and I worked together as teachers in an English School many years ago. The need of keeping my English fluent and updated inspired me to have classes with her, so, 3 other teachers and I formed a group for these classes. Betsy’s classes were always fun, full of new, challenging and interesting vocabulary, focusing on what was happening in the world and many times, with suggestions for our own classes. I still keep the material she prepared for us at that time and, surprisingly they are still fitted for my students. The environment where she teaches is so cozy that we believed we were abroad; this also contributed to the charm of the classes. Apart from that, Betsy and I have developed a strong friendship that has been kept alive up to now. I still turn to her whenever I need something and she never lets me down.
Betsy was the my English teacher in Uberaba, a long time ago…. An excellent teacher, a wonderful human-being. She gave me the nickname I gladly adopted ever since. We became close friends and we are still close – in our hearts.
Fui aluna da Betsy há muitos anos atrás em uma escola de idiomas em BH e quando descobri que ela continuava dando aulas, entrei em contato e já agendei meu horário semanal. Até retornar a ser aluna da Betsy, não tinha muita motivação para ir a aulas de inglês, porém, atualmente, digo que estou indo para a minha terapia em inglês. A Betsy é uma pessoa divertidíssima, muito culta e interessada. Sua curiosidade me impressiona. As aulas com ela fluem, abordamos os mais variados assuntos e de uma maneira leve consigo aprimorar meus conhecimentos em inglês e aprender novos vocabulários. Pode acompanhar suas aulas e publicações online vai ser sensacional!
Betsy is a wonderful English teacher! Not only is she a native English speaker, but she is also “antenada” in what’s going on around the globe, enabling all kinds of subjects to be brought to light through very engaging and in-depth discussions, and providing a rich vocabulary, with words and expressions you don’t normally find in your usual English textbooks (and that are only ever mentioned on advanced English classes after years and years of going to the same English school). She is very open-minded and has a great sense of humor, making “convos” interesting and funny. And…Betsy loves cats – she is the best! Love, Carla & Amanda.