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It is pouring the coldest rain my cheeks have ever felt from heaven as my unprepared Caribbean spring clothes are soaking wet in the middle of a busy street in Manhattan, at the beginning of an unforgettable May. As I accept I am doomed I cannot stop thinking that the never-ending tallness of the buildings don’t do much to protect insignificant pedestrians like me from the unmerciful siege of rain.

Finally, once again as a signal from heaven, an unexpected opportunity to find relief suddenly appears before me. It does not come from the skies though, but from the undergrounds. A miraculous stair cracks in the middle of the sidewalk before my eyes and leads me to an unexpected subway station.

As I descend, stepping on the tiny New Yorker muddy ponds created on the uneven surface of these ancient steps, I hear hundreds of sudden splashes made by running people coming out. The sounds is contrasted with the soft and timid noise of my body enjoying and rejoicing the transition from the hectically cold, wet, and noisy surface to a drier and calmer buried hidden world.

My initial pleasure turned to disappointment as I realized that no human beings sell tickets or assist anyone to find out where to go. It was just an electronic ticket vending machine and me who had to figure out how to jump in. Lucky me I am an experienced international immigration lawyer, and certified translator of many languages; no vending machine represented a small challenge for my objectives for the day.

First, I was asked by a digital screen to choose the language. I selected “English” of course! “It is the least I can do to honor the language spoken by Washington, Lincoln and all the founding fathers,” I thought. But it was interesting to see the extensive menu of languages someone can choose from in order to buy a simple ticket.

I masterfully managed to follow all the instructions, such as choosing from a 7-day pass or a 30-day pass or whether I wanted a single ride or a double ride, etc..

My real problems started when payment was requested. I needed to pay $2.75 for one ride. As I was ready to pay a warning appeared on the screen: “This machine does not temporarily accept bills. Coins and credit card payment only.” With my wallet full for months of one-dollar bill savings, and a little nervous to use my humble Yucatecan credit card, I decided to scratch the bottom of my pockets to figure out if my leftover tokens could complete such a surmounting amount.

One by one my quarters and dimes took me closer to my journey. As I deposited the coins a red figure appearing on the screen and decreased as if it were a rocket launching countdown, but it suddenly stopped as the last 25 cents were still missing when my money ran out. I still had many one-cent coins but then I realized that no vending machine would accept such small value coins, too late perhaps for me that I had already happily accepted many, and suddenly, just like the U.S. Congress, my pockets were full of valueless Lincoln promises.

By then a long line of New Yorkers in a hurry were giving me dirty looks. I was about to abort my mission and let the long waiting line to go ahead of me, when a furious gentleman rudely put a quarter in my account so I could receive my ticket and move on with my life and stop my selfish monopolizing battle with the machine. With my ticket in hand, the rude man whose act of kindness made me forgive his harshness, masterfully recharged his probably 30-day pass, jumped my obstructively massive wet body and rapidly ran into the gates in order to catch his train so suddenly that I couldn’t even thank him.

As I turned my view to the still long waiting line I couldn’t help noticing some judgmental glances by master users of the machine who rightfully accused me of sucking in ticket buying skills. Then my next challenge. I needed to figure out where this red dot line 3 would take me in the spider web of intricate escapes to the Manhattan surface.

With useful signals marking uptown and downtown at least I kind of knew where not to go. A tense calm omnipresently filled the environment as a soft far away metal sound of rails was becoming stronger and stronger and the waiting was going to become almost unbearable until the wagons finally arrived in a glorious underground denouement. Still not certain where I was going I decided to look for a subway map on my poor underground wifi reception. So the best thing to do was to let the first train go by without boarding.

Happy to see how even dogs can commute with more dignity than humans in this city, I soon realized that my cellphone wasn’t working. With an electronic announcement over my head promising that the next train was coming in two long minutes, I could dedicate my spare precious time to look at the details of the station, perhaps I would be lucky and find a casual map hanging around, I thought. As my eyes started to get caught by the graffiti’s on the walls and the litter among the railroad ties an amazing sound started to come out from the tunnel across my side.

Hypnotized by the spell of a metal sound, my eyes tried to look for its sources among the forest of a hundred casted iron columns that little by little unveiled the author of such a beautiful melody. A heavy man wearing heavier clothes was timidly sitting on a bench cornered on such a tiny spot that it could barely touch an inch of the main hall as if he didn’t want to disturb the sounds of the rails. But his music was not a disturbance at all, the perfect acoustic of the tunnels that morning made his sounds more beautiful than those of a requiem in a cathedral.

I do not know if he was blind, but he never opened his eyes, perhaps he was also in a trance enjoying his melancholic melody that was embracing all of us in that subway station as he masterfully played his golden sax. With slow and subtle blows you could see how his bare fingers were making the miracle as they were trying to come out from a pair of rotten dirty gloves. My train finally arrived, but I couldn’t take it, the heavy sound of the rails mingled in a perfect symphony with that of the sax creating the most powerful underground musical experience in my life. In that moment I knew that the sax was absolutely right, despite standing many feet under, it was heaven, I was in heaven, and my heart beat so that I could hardly speak.

Rodrigo Rodriguez is a human rights and immigration lawyer living in the Yucatan among the Mayans. He is a lover of good music and food, and is always looking to be amazed by nature. Rodrigo is a student here at CUNY SPS working on his Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law.

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By now probably everybody has heard of the plan to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman. This was getting thrown around for a few months prior to this announcement, with many happy to finally see the President who engineered a genocide of native Americans get taken off of our currency.  A poll was put in place to determine who would be the best replacement (with a strong preference for a women or an African American).  While there’s always detractors to any argument, there was general consensus that not many people would miss Ole’ Hickory, and our money could strongly use some diversity to better represent the rich and diverse history of our nation.

So Harriet Tubman seems like a perfect fit.  A woman, an African American and a gigantic historic figure in our nation’s history.  However in the weeks and months leading up to the eventual decision there was actually a move away from Jackson and the 20 Dollar bill and an eye on the 10 dollar bill and the less known (and less controversial) Alexander Hamilton.  I assume this was meant to avoid any controversy that might be caused by ousting Jackson.

Now personally I didn’t quite know much about Hamilton, as I’m sure many people don’t know much.  I know he wasn’t president (“The Wire” reminded me of that), and if pressed I might be able to come up with the fact that he was the first Treasury Secretary, but other than that, I was lost.  So was this founding father about to get ousted from his spot on our currency simply because people weren’t abreast of his story?  Could a smash hit Broadway musical change that, and perhaps change history?  Is this real life?  It just might be…

Could a Broadway Musical Change History?

For those that have been under a rock for the past few months, “Hamilton: An American Musical” has become a transcendent success on Broadway, selling out every show and driving secondary market ticket prices to unprecedented levels.  It’s surpassed “Wicked the Musical” tickets’ prices (the next most popular show on Broadway) by a factor a 200-1000% percent!

Hamilton the Musical Official Broadway Poster

The musical has been credited with engaging the younger generation and informing them of their nation’s history in a way that is much more diverse (all the main characters are played by Black and Brown actors).  The show received praise directly from President Obama at this year’s Tony Awards.  Its soundtrack is a best seller and it will likely spawn a national tour whose shows sell out in minutes.  Its already made history on Broadway.

But its impact hasn’t stopped in the Theater District, it may have gone all the way to D.C. and our national currency.  Apparently the red hot popularity of the show has influenced a decision on how the $10 bill will be redesigned.  According to this article:

Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda said on Wednesday (Mar. 16) that he had received “multiple assurances” from Lew that admirers of Hamilton would “not be disappointed” by the new design.  Miranda met with Lew on Monday, before his visit to the White House(.)

“Lew” in this instance is Jack Lew, the current Treasury Secretary of the United States! Our Treasury Secretary basically ran it by a Lin-Manuel Miranda, assuring that fans of a broadway musical wouldn’t be disappointed with the new design of our legal tender.  I can’t be the only one amazed at that?

Conclusion(s)

What can we make of this?  I don’t want to overstate the importance or impact of a broadway musical, but I think there can be concensus over the fact that such an influence is not only remarkable but probably unprecedented.  Our national currency (while not as important as laws or policy) is an important reflection of what we respect as a country, it’s our face to the world.

This is why it has always been a terrible affront to Native Americans that we’ve had Andrew Jackson on the $20.  However our own general ignorance of Hamilton almost led us down the path of ditching him as well.  It’s arguably the case that one man, Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by a biography of Alexander Hamilton, created a sensation that may have altered that path.

As a final aside, I think this speaks to a basic fact of life, that pursuing your dreams can lead to unexpected and seemingly impossible outcomes.  I encourage every student here at SPS and throughout CUNY to keep their head down and pursue whatever area fulfills them and makes their lives happy and enriched.  You’ll never know where that path will take you, but it will invariably lead you to success.  It might even get you to the White House.

Michael is currently pursuing his Bachelors of Science in Information Systems and plans on pursuing a Master Degree in Data Analytics from CUNY SPS after graduation. He’s worked in the Internet Marketing sector for nearly 7 years and specialize in Search Engine Optimization.