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Lin-Manuel Miranda and His Unknown Neighbor

I‘m relaxing on my parents couch fighting post-dinner drowsiness when a documentary about Broadway’s hit show, Hamilton, begins on the television. My parents are always watching PBS but I rarely, if ever, do and I‘m too lazy to reach for the remote to change it over to ESPN.

Hamilton’s America is the feature. It’s the development and production of the Broadway show through its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel). The name didn’t resonate with me but I found the documentary pretty interesting given how little I know about how Broadway shows are created. While watching, my mom walks into the living room, takes a glance at the television and casually asks, “Oh, you remember Lin?” as if I had intentionally tuned in to watch the show because of him.

A bit confused, my mind quickly raced in an attempt to identify who the hell this guy was, why my mom would know of him and nevertheless asked me if I remembered him.

After a few moments of silence, my mom tells me, “He was the kid next door, your neighbor.”

I grew up in Northern Manhattan on a pretty isolated street in a unique neighborhood. My dad was the superintendent of the building our family lived in and throughout the years, my family got well acquainted with everyone in the community. My brother and I would often play pick-up ball in the park nearby and street football with the local guys. Most of the neighborhood kids played in Inwood Little League together with community parents coaching likewise we all went to the same neighborhood churches, middle schools and high schools.

In retrospect, my teenage years were actually quite magical because Inwood was the community I grew up in and for the most part, I knew almost everyone. However, what I couldn’t figure out for the life of me was why I couldn’t recall my own neighbor!

I grew up next door to Lin-Manuel Miranda and his family in Inwood… literally. Lin was that strange kid who wore dark clothes, a beanie hat and was always wearing headphones walking to the beat of whatever he was listening to. My mom would encourage me to be friends with him every once in a while but as a kid, I was reluctant towards “forcing” something like that and I‘m not exactly the “impeding” type, especially with someone who usually appeared disinterested with the world around him. Lin would walk right past my bedroom window everyday like clockwork from school exactly the same way. I would never see him anywhere else, let alone, playing ball or hanging out in the neighborhood.

I knew Lin’s father, he was always a kind man who would say “hi” to me occasionally whenever he saw me cleaning the front of my building (yes, I helped my dad with his duties). Lin’s mom was a quiet woman and I recall Lin’s babysitter and his aunt who would visit them sometimes. Funny enough, the Miranda family’s backyard and ours actually connected (they were separated by a couple scalable fences of course) and I’d often jump into their yard to retrieve a ball my brother, myself or friends would accidentally hit or kick into it while fooling around. During the winter months, I’d help shovel the front of my building and, when necessary, cleared a path down the hill all the way to the front of Lin’s house to help our building tenants walk to and fro from work to minimize the risk of slipping and falling.

Needless to say, Lin’s dad (Luis) and aunt would talk with my mom occasionally when she walked our dog. My mom and Luis (both Puerto Rican) even had a mutual friend, but me? I don’t think I ever said a word to Lin and I don’t think Lin even knew of my existence. I reached out and asked my sister if she remembered him or ever spoke to him and she responded with, “That weird kid who never said anything?” Of course, I laughed but I needed to see if my siblings (I got the same response from my brother) might have possibly crossed paths with Lin at some point but nope, never.

I’m sitting in my parent’s living room watching Hamilton’s America in disbelief. That solo strange boy I would always see walk past my window would go on to become an extraordinary visionary and lyricists.

Jubei Raziel

I find it beautiful and exciting yet sad because for someone I would see regularly, we were worlds apart.

I’m not going to chastise my teenage self for never attempting to introduce myself to Lin, but life is interesting and ironic that way. Interestingly enough, Lin and I both turned out to be creative. More specifically I discovered we both write… a lot. We’re both storytellers though we use different mediums. Sure, it may very well be coincidence but considering the circumstances, I find it welcoming and encouraging. It’s what compelled me to write this actually.

You see, we are always pushing to elevate our careers, perhaps campaigning to get financed for a start-up or find that right person who could give us our “big break” but — in all likelihood — we may be looking in the wrong places. I find it fascinating how we typically pursue the iconic people (like celebrities and the wealthy) we “don’t know” in life while overlooking the people around us.

The reality could be that the success we eagerly seek may very well be in exploring and valuing those close to us and connecting with them.

Yes, horizons are beautiful to gaze at and dream about because we imagine all the wonderful possibilities that await us in life. We romance at the thought of meeting that one person (or persons) who may well change our lives for the better. But maybe, just maybe, we need to do less gazing at the crystal ball lying on that faraway flat line and more engagement with the people we commonly cross paths with.

I’m proud of Lin-Manuel Miranda and his re-imagination of storytelling through the fusion of lyrics and Hip Hop. I congratulate him on his wonderful successes and wish him many more. His journey remains an inspiration to me and his successes continue to motivate me. For this unknown Inwood neighbor, I hope I get the chance to connect with Lin one day and revisit the once lost opportunity of knowing the quiet boy who lived next door. With that, I encourage you all to embark on the adventure of discovering your neighbors. Who knows what amazing opportunities await you by this often overlooked but pleasant commodity.

Jubei RazielComment