The playbill for John Leguizamo’s latest, Latin History for Morons, includes a dedication that doubles as its inspiration. “To all the immigrants who made this country,” it reads, “and its original people whose spirit still run our lives unbeknownst to us.” Leguizamo’s newest solo show is an urgent call to re-learn our history, while embracing the messiness of the term “Latin.” The Ghetto Klown star, who was born in Colombia and raised in New York City, has long been a vocal critic of the erasure of Latino contributions to the making of the United States. “Without a past to glorify and uplift you, how do you propel yourself into an unknown, tenuous future?,” he recently asked in an October 2016 Op-Ed penned for the New York Times.
Talking to Remezcla, Leguizamo explained that his show is a way to fight back the anti-immigrant rhetoric we’re seeing on the news. By unearthing the history of the many Latino military heroes who have served in the United States army, and placing these contributions alongside breakthroughs that we owe to the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Taínos, Leguizamo also hoped to remind audiences of the connection Latinos today have with those native tribes that once populated the Americas. With plenty of wigs and props, Leguizamo zips through thousands of years of Latino history to fill in the gaps of what he sees today in American textbooks. By the end of the show, he hopes his audiences will leave emboldened by his raucously funny and politically urgent lecture.
“I’m being empowered by our history. There’s no way I could feel like a second-class citizen ever again. Knowing now that we have fought in every single war this country’s ever had and that we’re the most decorated minority and ethnic group in each war—you can’t take that away from me ever again.” Those type of statistics and historical factoids are littered throughout Latin History for Morons.
Of course, when you have Leguizamo as your teacher, you know that despite the blackboard and his tweed jacket you’re in for a looser type of lecture. More surprising is the personal history that first sparked Leguizamo’s idea for this show. After learning his son had to create a school presentation on the subject of heroes, Leguizamo took it upon himself to find a slew of Latino military heroes that his son and his schoolmates could look up to – including the schoolmate bullying his son. In the process, Leguizamo had to contend with the fact that Latino history was harder to find in your average textbook – why were Latino military icons so much harder to unearth? Why didn’t he ever learn about them in school, he wondered.
After workshopping Latin History for Morons at La Jolla Playhouse and premiering it at Berkeley Rep, Leguizamo has now brought the show to the Public Theater. “My pieces are always growing. Until the very last day when they pull me off the stage. Everything is evolving constantly. It’s a living piece of art.” He’s still intent, for example, on finding a way to include Eduardo Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent into the show.
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