The star of Chicago's production of "Hamilton," Miguel Cervantes, said he was "ignorant to any sort of racism or bigotry" growing up in Texas.
"It never felt to me that, living in Dallas, that people were upset that there were a lot of Mexicans. You know, it didn't seem to me that people were like, 'Wow this is terrible.' And so why all of a sudden is it like that? Is it really like that? I just -- don't think it is," Cervantes told David Axelrod on The Axe Files, a podcast from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
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"[My dad's] grandparents came from Mexico as ranchers. My mom's family grew up in El Paso, Texas," he said.
"So, Texas folks, and they were both in the military. My dad was a Marine, my mom was in the Navy and they sort of met in New Orleans and got together there and then sort of relocated to Dallas where my dad's family ended up," said Cervantes.
"The Cervantes clan was [in Dallas]. And that's sort of how we grew up, surrounded by my dad's family in this huge, huge Hispanic culture that we got to enjoy."
With its diverse cast, "Hamilton" retells American history in a way that is not "black and white and textbook," according to Cervantes.
"We begin with a 19-year-old guy trying to figure out his life, the journey: it is clear and jagged and hard to emotionally get into or to figure out. And yet, that's the reason why it works so well, is you dive into the minds of these people and go on ... his journey with them."
"Hamilton" isn't the first time Cervantes' life as an actor has intersected with American politics. He was an ensemble member in the original cast of "American Idiot," based on an album of the same name by the band Green Day.
"It was [Green Day's] rallying cry against the Iraq war and the policies that were going on at the time, and so they wanted to create this piece that sort of was a little bit of a middle finger to the government to say, you know, 'Listen to us. Listen to the youth.'"
During his time in "Hamilton," Cervantes and his cast have invited local students to see the production and Cervantes said he knows the students can "feel the weight of what is going on" as they watch "Hamilton." Just as the students learn about American history in a new way through the show, so did Cervantes.
"What I learned was that while, yes, these guys and these folks were creating a country, they were also regular people messing up and doing the wrong thing and trying to figure it out," he said. "This job, something that is fulfilling artistically, politically, all of a sudden, this becomes much more than just a great role. This becomes something important."