Epilogue to Hamilton

Protesters_celebrate_Ricardo_Rossello_resignation

Protesters on July 25, 2019, celebrate in Puerto Rico following the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, marching from Milla de Oro in Hato Rey to the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan. (Photo by Daryana Rivera)

My verse pleases the brave

my verse, brief and sincere

has the vigor of steel

that tempers the sword.

José Martí, Simple Verses

By all North American accounts, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is a crushing success. Some have claimed it to be a political and aesthetic revolution. The production has run continuously in New York for over half a decade. Lin-Manuel has become a wealthy man, and the production teams of Hamilton have profited handsomely. The Disney corporation paid $75M for the world-wide rights of a film of the original production—a deal that meant $30M for Lin-Manuel personally. He is touted regularly as a genius, and is asked by the mainstream media to comment on all things Puerto Rican. But through the din of the hype, faintly and far away, one hears the voice of the old-time African American preacher:

This is Babylon, Babylon,

That great city of Babylon.

Come on, my friend, and go along with me.

And the young man joined the crowd.[1]

1024px-Bad_Bunny_billboard_on_the_side_of_the_Hospital_Pavia_Hato_Rey_building

Bad Bunny X100PRE billboard on the side of the Hospital Pavia Hato Rey building in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as seen from the highway, 23 May 2019. (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons / The Eloquent Peasant)

In the summer of 2019, while touring Spain, Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny announced on Instagram:

I’m canceling everything. I’m pausing my career because I don’t have the heart or mind to do music…. I’m going to Puerto Rico. I’m not going to turn my back on you. We have to continue taking the streets.

Pop icon Ricky Martin also announced:

I’m getting on a plane and I’ll be [in Puerto Rico] at 7 a.m. [to march]…. I want to feel the power of the people. Come demonstrate with us.

And Residente, the great rapper idolized by reggaeton enthusiasts, released a track called “Afilando los cuchillos” (“Sharpening Knives”) accompanied by Bad Bunny and Puerto Rican singer iLe.[2]

Residente - Calle 13

El cantante puertorriqueño Residente, perteneciente al dúo Calle 13, presentándose en Nueva York en al año 2006. / The Puerto Rican singer Residente, belonging to the duo Calle 13, performing in New York in 2006. (Photo by Oscar Rohena)

The occasion was the public demonstrations against the administration of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. The Puerto Rican people, led by their civic activists, artists, rappers and musicians, were in the streets. With their drums and songs, their poetry and their great heart, with pots and pans in some cases, the people created a social and spiritual gale of hurricane proportions. It was one of those times—well-known to Irish rebels—when poetry jumped the pages of books, the songs of troubadours, and became incarnate as the goddess of Liberty in the Phrygian cap who was present at the American Revolution and at the storming of the Bastille.

There is a sort of triumph in putting on a Broadway show and making millions of dollars. But the Puerto Rican rappers and musicians, grieved by corruption and offended by arrogance, helped the people topple their elected, pro-statehood government.[3] Caribbean political leaders understand rebellious poetry. It has been used and misused—by great poets as well as by charlatans and thieves—throughout our wretched history.

We should not misuse our verses. Their power may be lost, their soul may fly away.

OG

[1] James Weldon Johnson, “The Prodigal Son” in God’s Trombones (1927; New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 23.

[2] Cobo, L. (2019, July 22). “Puerto Rican Artists Ricky Martin, Residente & Bad Bunny Are Agents of Change Calling for Governor’s Resignation”. Retrieved July 7, 2021, from Billboard: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/8523379/puerto-rican-artists-ricky-martin-residente-bad-bunny-governor-resignation-protests

[3] For an account of the days of protest against Rosselló, see https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/27/us/puerto-rico-protests-timeline.html

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