In Conversation: Pierre Jean Gonzalez

The photograph depicts actor Pierre Jean Gonzalez in his starring role as Alexander Hamilton, wearing a white shirt, pants, vest, and cravat, with a brown overcoat with gold buttons. His head is turned to the side and he is gazing into the distance.
Photo credit: @ Joan Marcus

By Cherise T.

Fans of Hamilton know the impressive acting, singing, and dancing skills required to bring to life the musical’s complex characters. Hamilton showcases multiple musical genres, innovative choreography, and insightful portrayals of historical figures responsible for the founding of the United States. We are excited to share highlights from our conversation with one of the show’s remarkable stars whose work impacts the artistic content we will see in the future.

The photograph is of Hamilton star Pierre Jean Gonzalez, wearing a black shirt and facing the camera.
Photo credit: @ Ambe J. Photography

Growing up in the Bronx, Pierre Jean Gonzalez never saw himself represented in the television shows he watched. Today, he is starring in the national touring company of Hamilton, and is the co-founder of DominiRican Productions, whose “mission is to see People of Color on both sides of the camera.” The creation of the production company was part of his “pandemic journey” to “address issues of representation.” He feels grateful that “because of Hamilton, I’m able to use my status to help others.” 

What’s it like playing Alexander Hamilton? “Challenging” and “amazing.”

Is BIPOC casting in musical theater important and why? To summarize, it has changed Pierre’s life as well as the lives of other creative people and audience members.

How are opportunities for underrepresented and marginalized communities created? Case study: DominiRican Productions.

We examined these issues and took audience questions at our September 20 event at HCLS Central Branch. The evening featured a screening of DominiRican’s award-winning experimental short, release, directed by Pierre, featuring a poem and performance by Cedric Lieba Jr., the cofounder of DominiRican Productions, and Pierre’s fiancé. Explore their inspirational projects at https://dominiricanproductions.com.

The photograph depicts Pierre Jean Gonzalez looking at books from the HCLS Central Branch equity collection with instructor and research specialist Ash Baker.
Instructor and Research Specialist Ash B. highlights the HCLS Central Branch Equity Resource Collection for Pierre Jean Gonzalez.

The focus of Pierre’s biography surrounds his advocacy for Latinx and LGBTQ+ opportunities on stage, on screen, and behind the camera. He and Cedric used the pandemic’s constraint on their acting careers as a chance to construct a unique artistic venture highlighting original voices and fresh talent to viewers. Inspired in part by the musical heritage, humanity, and diverse casting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work in Hamilton, Pierre builds and supports projects that might otherwise never be produced. His dedication to inclusion and community is clear, and we were all motivated by his empowering message of kindness and empathy in art. Pierre shared his personal coming out story as well as guidance for all of us to live our truth, share our stories, and lift up those around us.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez is on the stage at HCLS Central Branch, speaking into a microphone in front of an audience.
Pierre Jean Gonzalez in conversation with Cherise Tasker, Instructor and Research Specialist, at HCLS Central Branch.

Howard County Library System was excited to host this talk with Hamilton star Pierre Jean Gonzalez. Although registration for this event filled almost immediately, please watch our Classes & Events page for daily updates on future presentations and interactive sessions: https://howardcounty.librarycalendar.com.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

The book cover shows a young man on the left, holding a soccer ball behind a net and looking at his cell phone, and a young man on the right in a maroon and white hoodie with his hands in his pockets. Between them is an isolated image of two hands clasping. There is a pink and peach-colored bright but cloudy sky in the background, and the title lettering is in teal green.

By Sahana C.

TW: Parental abuse & abandonment, homophobia & homophobic slurs, bullying 

In Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, Julián Luna is determined to make the most of his senior year of high school. He has plans on how he’ll make that happen: spending as much time as possible with his best friends, playing soccer, graduating, getting into UCLA, and, oh – making sure no one finds out that he’s gay. Especially not his father. But despite this secret he’s keeping, he manages to make the most of things, spending time with his tight-knit friend group. Until, of course, one day, just scrolling through Twitter, he sees pictures of a boy. Immediately, there’s a connection, and when they start texting and speaking more, Julián finds himself falling for the boy, Mat. The issue, then? Well, other than the fact that Julián isn’t out, he’s also in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Mat lives in Los Angeles. Despite the distance, the two boys start learning about each other, falling for each other, and hoping for a future together. But time, distance, and unplanned coming-outs get in the way.  

Garza Villa is honest about hardship from the start of the book, even writing in the dedication ““To all the queer brown boys still waiting for their chance to bloom. Quisieron enterrarnos, pero no sabían que éramos semillas.” They want to bury us, but they don’t know that we are seeds. That thread flows through the novel, including candid conversations about machismo in Latinx culture, religion’s intersection with homophobia, and conversations about bullying. And yet, despite the list of trigger warnings at the top of this review, the novel is intentionally not centering trauma in Julián’s life. Every moment of pain is followed by immediate love, support, and care. Garza Villa takes pains to ensure that joy is the central theme around which the rest of the story is built; of course Julián faces hardship, but he is never truly alone in how he responds to those traumatic moments. The idea presented in the dedication, “we are seeds”, is exactly how Julián responds to all the hardships in his life. He was buried deep, and with careful nurture, love, and support from his family and friends, he manages to bloom into something beautiful and loving, breaking the cycle of abuse.  

This book was wonderfully illustrative. I lost myself in Julián’s friend group, found myself falling in love with Mat along with Julián, and waiting with bated breath for college acceptance letters. But most significantly, I was swept up in a celebration of culture, cuisine, friendship, and queer joy. There is real heart here; Garza Villa paints an honest picture of the ways falling in love and doing long distance just as easily as he manages to bring to life all of the different characters that make up Julián’s friend group, who each are so vivacious and full of life without becoming caricatures.  

This book is perfect for any teens looking to find themselves, or adults who know that the blooming never stops. That if we are seeds, we will continue to grow, season after season.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.