I’ve been listening quite a bit to the Hamilton soundtrack the last few weeks. There’s a scene in act one where Hamilton (Lin Manuel Miranda) and Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) comment “Immigrants, we get the job done.” It’s a wry moment in the musical, and acknowledgement that the American project isn’t one just championed and fought for by “native born” people. Hamilton was born in the West Indies and Lafaytette in France, yet both willingly risked their lives and Hamilton his entire career for democracy and the American experiment. Miranda’s parents are from Puerto Rico, and his first musical, In the Heights look at that immigrant community in New York City. He has a feel for what it means to be American and the child of recent immigrants. After all, we are all immigrants here.
I bring up this phrase because James Fallows at the Atlantic has been doing a series on Donald Trump, documenting for posterity the absurdity but also his real outrage. Fallows worked as a speech writer in Jimmy Carter’s administration, and he has written extensively on politics and what it means to be America. His most recent posting is about how unAmerican Trumps’s comments about a federal judge hearing the fraud cause against Trump Univeristy, a word that we need to stop applying to this real estate educational scam. Universities require actual accreditation, and Trump did not do anything in a legitimate fashion. The judge happens to be the son of immigrants from Mexico. Because Trump wants to build a wall to prevent people from crossing the border from Mexico into the US, he thinks the judge is biased. And he keeps saying it in the most racist way possible– calling him a Mexican. To a Texan, it’s clearly denigrating the judge based on ethnicity and race. You don’t use “Mexican” the way Trump is without meaning it as a racial slur. I cringe every time I read or hear Trump say it. It’s in the realm of using more coarse terminology. And as Fallows argues, it’s unAmercian to emphasize where your heritage is from as somehow something that overrides your essential Americanism. Fallow passionately makes the case here:
For citizens of the United States, essentialism should mean: Who you are, is American. And everything about your place in this society should depend on what you do and say, how you contribute and to what you aspire, rather than to whom you were born. This is the revolutionary American idea. It is the most truly exceptional part of American exceptionalism. And the long struggle of American history has been to match reality to that ideal. This is the concept of becoming a more perfect union laid out in the Constitution, which ranges from extirpating the original sin of slavery, to dealing with slavery’s ongoing effects, to the continuing effort to open opportunities, under fair conditions, for Americans regardless of background
Without immigrants would not have the nation we have. We’re built by people who aspire to more. Hamilton emphasizes the frenetic energy of man who wrote and thought deeply about what we were meant to be. Alexander Hamilton was by no means a perfect man, but his aspirations shaped our nation and he was an immigrant. And Miranda’s musical is an exuberant celebration of the various musical legacies from the immigrants who shaped us.