John Leguizamo is a comedian and actor who has been entertaining people for years – and making them terribly uncomfortable about their hidden biases – all at the same time. His “Latin History for Morons” is probably his masterpiece to date.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to catch a PBS special that followed the making of “Latin History,” which eventually wended its way onto Broadway as a one-man show. It made me laugh, it made me cry – because racial prejudice has always made me cry and always will.
Leguizamo was born in Columbia before moving to America and becoming a citizen. He comes from blended cultures – there’s some Lebanese, a lot of Latino – and his trademark has been his ability to raise cultural awareness. When his young son was bullied in school because of his brown skin, Leguizamo decided he needed to help the boy build up his defenses by understanding the grandeur of his legacy and “Latin History” was the result.
One of the problems that people of color face in America (and elsewhere in the world) is the constant message that they are lesser-than. But Leguizamo demonstrates with humor and acuity that Latinos have a proud heritage dating back to the Aztec and the Mayans. His romp through 3000 years of history celebrates this fact while subtly reminding whites of their aggressive behavior.
That’s quite a feat – making the whites in the audience uncomfortable while laughing until their sides ache. A novel way to address decades of bad behavior, I must say, and I could not possibly be that clever or that kind. Over the years I have done extensive reading about my white ancestors who have robbed the land from brown and red inhabitants and imported black slaves, and I am not at all amused.
But props to Leguizamo who is wiser than I and more interested in raising the pride of his fellow Latinos than anything else. “Latin History for Morons” is achingly funny, entertaining and instructive, and while it is no longer on Broadway, the show is only a finger tip away on Netflix.
— Jonnie Martin