The accolades are almost too many to count: a Pulitzer Prize, three Grammy Awards, three Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacArthur “genius” grant and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Millions of people have seen Lin-Manuel Miranda perform on stage, TV, film and in video clips that seem to go viral instantaneously. But fewer people know that before all the awards and acclaim, Lin-Manuel had long been working to change the world alongside his deeply philanthropic parents.
As prominent Hispanic activists in New York City, Luis Miranda and Luz Towns-Miranda brought their two children along from an early age to demonstrate at rallies and canvas for signatures. Over the years, Luis and Luz, along with their son Lin-Manuel and their daughter Luz Miranda-Crespo, have supported an array of political and charitable causes that reflect their diverse and passionately held interests.
Now, the Miranda family has launched a new initiative in the form of a donor-advised fund program with the Hispanic Federation, an organization that Luis helped found in 1990 to provide services and advocate for the Latino community. In a series of conversations, Luis and Lin-Manuel, along with their director of philanthropy, Sara Elisa Miller, and current Hispanic Federation President José Calderón, discussed the donor-advised fund program, which they hope will inspire others to echo the Miranda family’s commitment to philanthropy itself.
Serving the Underserved
Some families organize their lives around children’s soccer games. Others focus on church activities or religious traditions. But for generations, the Mirandas have centered their lives around service, activism and philanthropy.
“I grew up with a father who did a lot for our small town,” said Luis. “He was president of the Rotary Club, the Lions Club and the local chapter of the Red Cross. I saw him mobilize whenever there was a need, and I don’t recall a time in my life growing up when we were not doing something as a family to contribute and give back to our community.”
Steeped in this ethos of serving others, Luis moved from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1970s to study at New York University. There, he met Luz, a fellow student who shared his devotion to civic-minded activism and advocacy.
“Their first date was to attend a protest together,” explained Miller, who has known the Miranda family for more than 15 years and has been coordinating their philanthropic activities since 2017. “Even before they had money, they were philanthropic.”
United in their determination to help underserved communities, Luis and Luz gave their time and volunteered extensively, even as they started a family and pursued their professional careers. Luz obtained her Ph.D. and practiced as a clinical psychologist, primarily serving immigrant women in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, while Luis served in three mayoral administrations, including as the director of the Office for Hispanic Affairs and chairman of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation.
In 1990, the call came from the United Way in New York asking Luis to start a new initiative aimed at supporting the Latino community. Modeled after the highly impactful Jewish Federation in New York, the Hispanic Federation was designed to address the human services and health needs of the Latino community. It is now one of the country’s leading Latino nonprofits.
“My father started the Hispanic Federation when I was 10 years old,” said Lin-Manuel. “I got to watch it grow, from when it had shared office space to when it moved into its first real offices on 37th Street and 8th Avenue. I would go and do my homework there after school.” During this time, Luis and Luz would frequently bring along their children to school board meetings, campaign functions and nonprofit events and press them into helping in whatever way they could, whether by knocking on doors, collecting signatures or distributing pamphlets.
After leading the Hispanic Federation with his family’s full involvement for nearly a decade, Luis started an independent consulting firm that has helped manage numerous successful political campaigns at the local and national levels. In the meantime, Lin-Manuel graduated from Wesleyan University and quickly found a warm welcome on Broadway. His first musical, “In the Heights,” received critical raves and won multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical.