He is a theater sensation, a movie star, a popular animated character, and a New York Times op-ed contributor. Now John Leguizamo is ready to teach audiences on the Great White Way all about Hispanic heritage. His latest one-man show, “Latin History for Morons” debuts on Broadway October 19.
The inspiration for his show came, in part, from his son having been bullied at school, which reminded Leguizamo of his own experiences as a kid. “I started to think why people feel comfortable disrespecting us in a way that’s just not normal or natural,” he said. “And I started to think that it's because our contributions aren't in history textbooks.”
Leguizamo points out that most people – including many Latinos – don’t know that Hispanics served in the American Revolutionary War, in the War of 1812, in the Civil War, and conflicts from Korea to Iraq. He hopes that his new Broadway show will inform people of the positive contributions of Hispanics at a time when Latinos are often invisible or stereotyped in the media.
Leguizamo burst onto the New York theater scene with his acclaimed one-man show Mambo Mouth (1991), before moving on to roles in film (Ice Age, Moulin Rouge) and television. He also presented his solo shows Freak (1998) and Ghetto Klown (2011) on Broadway.
Of Colombian and Puerto Rican descent, Leguizamo carries great affection for his old neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse places on earth. “This neighborhood formed me. The experiences I had here, I wouldn’t trade them for anything because then I wouldn’t be who I am,” he said. “This is where I formed my comedic self. And it couldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
These days, Leguizamo believes that Latinos need to unite around issues like discrimination and injustice. “We need to organize. We need to speak up, act up. We need to resist – and we need everybody,” he said. “We need all the celebrities, all the athletes. We have so many people who are so high profile, who are not really speaking out, and not really doing their part.” Celebrities with a loyal Latino fan base, in his view, should give back to the people who helped make their careers.
What is the best thing about coming from a Latino family? "Well, in a Latin household there’s no such thing as one person talks at a time. It’s we all talk at the same time, and you just jump into the conversation you are interested in at the moment. It sounds like the U.N., and you just jump into the conversation you dig."
Do you ever regret putting so much of your personal life on stage? "All the time. Most artists don’t (use) their personal stuff… so personally. They don’t give it a name, an exact name. And that’s been hard on my family and that’s been hard on me, too. But that’s the shape my art form took. I let it be."
How would you feel if your son wrote a show called “Growing Up Leguizamo?” I would not be happy. No, I would be cool. My son is always skewering me, roasting me. I’m used to it now. So go ahead, do it.
The #NBCLatino20 honors achievers who are making our communities and our nation better. Follow their fascinating stories throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.