Lin-Manuel Miranda has said that when he played Alexander Hamilton on Broadway, he channeled the relentless spirit of his father, Luis. Over a long career, the elder Miranda has been a government official for New York City, a nonprofit leader, a political consultant and a school founder. Next week, a documentary about him called Siempre, Luis will arrive on HBO, tracing his tireless work ethic as he recovers from a heart attack and mobilizes for Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Maria.
“That’s the way people should be,” Luis said during a TIME100 Talks on Thursday, sitting next to his son, Lin-Manuel, who smiled and shook his head. “You should try to use as many brain cells as you possibly can in your lifetime.”
Luis was born in Puerto Rico and immigrated to New York in 1971, where he raised Lin-Manuel and his daughter, Luz. He brought them up with extremely high expectations, Luis told TIME editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal. “I wanted them to excel on everything they were doing, and pushed very hard for that to happen,” he said, adding, “But we also sent them to therapy to handle it.”
The Mirandas have maintained strong ties to Puerto Rico. Each year while he was growing up, Lin-Manuel spent a month in Puerto Rico with his paternal grandparents, which allowed him to forge a connection with the island that has endured through his meteoric rise as a musical theater composer and performer.
“I will always bring any art I make to Puerto Rico because it’s important to me,” he said. He brought his first Broadway show, In the Heights, there, and was in the midst of planning a Hamilton production on the island when Hurricane Maria hit, killing more than 3000 and uprooting countless lives.
Following Hurricane Maria, both Luis and Lin-Manuel plunged themselves into fundraising and recovery efforts for Puerto Rico. “The idyllic perfect place where my parents were from … has shifted and evolved,” Luis said. “Life has not been easy … particularly under colonialism.”
The crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted Lin-Manuel’s industry particularly hard given that almost all live events have been cancelled for months and will remain so for the foreseeable future, has prompted more activism among theater artists and workers, he said.
“Theater practitioners are looking to create a more equitable and just space for when we return so that the audience of Hamilton, and the front of house staff, is just as diverse as the cast,” he said. “The energy that would be going toward eight shows a week is now going to these challenges facing our country, whether it be systemic racism or mobilizing the vote.”
While discussing the upcoming presidential election, Lin-Manuel couldn’t resist drawing comparisons to the one portrayed in Hamilton. “In 1800, Jefferson and Adams both had a newspaper and they printed lies about each other—so it’s not that this is new,” he said. “It’s just that the news travels at the speed of a click now. That’s the scariest thing to me. But when I see the peaceful protests going on—when white bodies stand up for black and brown bodies in the street—that gives me enormous hope.”