Up in Washington Heights the other day, the political consultant Luis Miranda took a break from reviewing Joe Biden ads aimed at Latino voters in Florida to catch up on Zoom with his son, Lin-Manuel. Miranda père, who is sixty-six, was at an office near his apartment. He wore a loud patterned shirt and round glasses. Miranda fils, in a hoodie and a cap, was upstate, getting ready to direct the movie musical “Tick, Tick . . . Boom!”
Though his career is not in the theatre, Luis is possibly even more animated than his son. “Everyone who meets Luis Miranda goes, ‘Your play is good, but your dad is a character,’ ” Lin-Manuel said. In “Siempre, Luis,” a new HBO documentary about Luis, directed by John James, Lin-Manuel describes his father as a “relentless motherfucker,” not unlike another Caribbean-born politico, Alexander Hamilton. “It keeps surfacing in my work,” Lin-Manuel went on. “I’m in awe of people who come to New York from somewhere else and make a life for themselves here.”
Luis grew up in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, a small town west of San Juan. His father, Luis, Sr. (nicknamed Güisin), was the local credit-union manager. “If you needed five hundred bucks, you went to see Güisin,” Luis recalled. “Lin-Manuel says that he always had the fantasy of my dad being like the banker in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ You could not walk through town without my dad being stopped all the time, so much that I swore to myself that I would never name my kid Luis. Never ever. Because I didn’t have a name. I’m back to not having a name. I’m Lin-Manuel’s dad. After my eighteen years in Vega Alta, I was ‘Güisin’s son, the one who left and went to New York.’ ”
In 1974, Luis—young, scrappy, hungry, and newly married to his seventh-grade sweetheart—was recruited to a Ph.D. program in clinical psychiatry at New York University. With ten dollars from his father, he left his wife behind in Puerto Rico, moved in with an aunt in Chelsea, and got a job at a nonprofit, where his salary was five dollars an hour, twice what he had made at a Sears back home. He said, “I remember calling my wife that night and saying, ‘Baby, New York is the shit. My salary just doubled, and all I had to do was take a plane! ” The marriage didn’t last—he met Lin-Manuel’s mother, Luz, through the N.Y.U. program—nor did his career as a therapist. “I quickly realized that I am not cut out to be the kind of psychologist that I was being trained to be,” he recalled. “I would be sitting there thinking, You’re such a loser! Do something! We talked about this problem the last two months! Please.”
“Luis Miranda as your psychologist is nightmare fuel,” Lin-Manuel said.
Luis and Luz moved to Washington Heights in 1980, the year Lin-Manuel was born. “We got involved in electing Hispanic school-board members in District 6,” Luis said. “I had picketed Ed Koch every time he came to our community, because we were fighting for more schools.” Luis, whose colorful belligerence matched Koch’s, talked his way into a job as the mayor’s director of Hispanic affairs. “I very weirdly remember the day he was hired,” Lin-Manuel, who was seven at the time, recalled. “I was watching the episode of ‘Good Times’ when John Amos’s character died, and I was hysterically crying. And my dad came home a half hour later with this letter on mayoral stationery and said, ‘Your dad got a new job!’ ” Growing up, Lin-Manuel ran around Gracie Mansion at holiday parties and picked up lyrical skills from Inner Circle shows, which featured song parodies making fun of Koch. “I never got to go, but my dad would bring home programs,” he said. “Because I grew up worshipping Weird Al, I just thought it was so cool that they were ripping the mayor to shit to Michael Jackson tunes.” In 1998, Luis formed a consulting firm, through which he helped Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton win their Senate seats. (“The dude was relentless,” he said of Schumer.) More recently, he helped Letitia James become the attorney general of New York. Lin-Manuel, meanwhile, channelled the retail side of politics into “Hamilton.” “I remember Andrew Cuomo seeing the show and saying to me, ‘You learned politics at the kitchen table,’ ” he said.
Now that “Hamilton” is big business, Luis applies his behind-the-scenes boosterism to his son. A month before Hurricane Maria, in 2017, he opened a commercial courtyard in Vega Alta called La Placita de Güisin, with an arepa stand, a mosaic of Lin-Manuel as Hamilton alongside Luis’s father, and a gallery called Museo Miranda, displaying “Hamilton” fan art, family photos, and one of Lin-Manuel’s Tonys. Lin-Manuel wasn’t always the pride of his father’s home town. “When I went to visit as a kid,” he recalled, “I was introduced as ‘Ese es el de Luisito que se fue’: ‘That’s the kid of Luis who left.’ ” ♦