U.S. Markets closed

Why Lin-Manuel Miranda teamed up with AmEx while turning other brands down

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
Lin-Manuel Miranda in Washington Heights (American Express)

Long before Hamilton became a global sensation, Lin-Manuel Miranda first made his Broadway debut with a powerful celebration of his community.

After a successful Off-Broadway run, In the Heights won four Tony Awards. A film adaptation is slated to come out in 2020. The story follows a vibrant cast of predominantly Spanish-speaking characters in the NYC neighborhood of Washington Heights. The charismatic narrator Usnavi runs a small bodega. Daniela owns a salon. Kevin operates his own taxi service. The Piragua Guy, well, sells piraguas (a Puerto Rican shaved ice).

Miranda is of Puerto Rican descent and lives in Washington Heights. Ahead of Small Business Saturday on November 24, Miranda showcases his friends throughout Washington Heights in a new American Express (AXP) ad. Small Business Saturday is a manufactured holiday held two days after Thanksgiving, often considered one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.

“I speak with Manny…He used to sweep up and do chores at Victor’s Pharmacy. When the owner decided to retire, he saved up the money and bought it. He’s the real life Usnavi — he bought it and turned it into a malt shop selling egg creams. It’s one of the last businesses selling egg creams in Upper Manhattan in a 50s style drug store. It’s an incredible mom and pop story. Now he and his dad run that pharmacy,” Miranda told Yahoo Finance.

The ad also features a scene in a barbershop. “I’m getting my haircut by George. He was in my wedding — we play handball together,” he added.

“I’m not going to be in a commercial for something I don’t use”

Miranda has been hesitant to participate in corporate sponsorships.

“I’ve been approached with different sponsorships from different brands, but I’ve always said no, I don’t really use that. I’m not going to be in a commercial for something I don’t use. I actually use American Express all the time. I live in a wonderful community that is known for and prides itself in having businesses built by immigrants and I’m proud to patronize those businesses,” he said. He first teamed up with American Express one year ago.

The landscape for these immigrant-run businesses is vibrant but remains frustrating when it comes to scaling up. More Latinos are starting businesses than the general population, but they aren’t making much money. There are currently 4 million Latino-owned businesses in the US but only 2% of them earn over $1 million in annual revenue, according to data compiled by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. One percent receive venture capital or angel investments, according to Stanford Business School research.

Miranda said he still remains encouraged by what he’s observing. “I feel a lot of Latino kids who grew up in our neighborhoods are choosing to stay and give back.”

In the same way Miranda uses his work to showcase the diversity of America, he hopes his partnership with AmEx can showcase some of the talented, intrepid business owners in his community.

“I never considered myself an entrepreneur. When I started writing ‘In the Heights,’ I wanted to write the kinds of roles that I wanted to play. There weren’t many musical theater roles meant for us — we had West Side story; Diana and Paul in Chorus Line, and there were a couple of others…but the joy of seeing original cast members in that show – who had regular employment, was so satisfying. It’s even more satisfying than being a writer.”

Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technologyand real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

READ MORE:
The app revolutionizes how immigrants send money to their families around the world
How Latinos are driving income growth in America