Is it just us, or did you used to dread history class back in your younger, school-aged days. Perhaps it’s because you were a naive teenager and you had zero clue how important it was to understand the past if you ever wanted to make the future better. Or perhaps it’s because you had a really boring history teacher (sorry Mr. Harrison). Enter John Leguizamo. The memorable drag queen Chi-Chi Rodriguez in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (P.S., he won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for this role). The voice of Sid the Sloth in the Ice Age movies. He also epically portrayed Tybalt Capulet in Baz Luhrmann’s remake of Romeo + Juliet (when yours truly first fell in love with him); and crushed it as the sleazy Ozzy in the recent Netflix original show Bloodline.
However, the actor, comedian, producer, Tony-award winning playwright, author and entertainer extraordinaire has talents that go far beyond being a fixture on the small screen, the silver screen and the stage. His latest gig also happens to qualify him as the history teacher we always wanted but never knew we needed. In fact, he’s the history professor the whole world really needs right now.
In 2017, Leguizamo launched Latin History for Morons — a truly epic name and incredibly accurate description of his passion project. The show ran a very successful live stint on Broadway, but for those of us who missed it, you can now view it as a 90-minute, Netflix comedy special that delivers lots of learnings and even more laughs.
There’s a reason this groundbreaking show has been acclaimed by critics and fans alike, in fact, there are a lot of reasons. So here are 17 reasons that John Leguizamo is the history teacher we all need right now.
He is a Proud Colombian-American
Leguizamo was born in Bogotá, Colombia to parents with Italian, Puerto Rican and Lebanese roots. He moved to New York at age 4, and was raised in Queens, in“the hood,” as he calls it in his one-man show.
He is a Colombian-American, extremely proud of his Latin roots, and undeniably outspoken about the harsh reality of growing up as a Latino in a predominantly white community. Leguizamo has been open about feeling like a second-class citizen in his own country, and that upbringing is a huge part of what has led us to where we are today with Latin History for Morons.
He Embodies the American Dream
John Leguizamo embodies the American dream that so many immigrants hope for and work for. He immigrated to the United States with his family, looking for opportunity and a better life. He attended New York public schools, and then went on to study theater at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
After dropping out of college, he began doing stand-up comedy in New York City in the 80s, and then went on to act in everything from music videos and TV shows to films, cartoons, stand-up shows, plays and more. He is a bonafide Hollywood star with hundreds of incredible film, theater and writing credits to his name.
He is Personally Motivated to Educate Others About Latin History
As Leguizamo explains in his one-man show, his motivation to create Latin History for Morons began after an eye-opening experience with his son. A few years ago he found out that his teenage son was being bullied at school, being called a “beaner” by another student at his fancy private school in New York City. (FYI, “beaner” is a derogatory term that isn’t even accurate, as he hilariously points out in his opening monologue. It refers to a Hispanic person living in the United States, typically from Mexico, and Leguizamo’s family is from Colombia and Puerto Rico.)
— John Leguizamo (@JohnLeguizamo) November 8, 2018
After confronting the bully’s father at school one day, he realizes that he doesn’t actually have a good comeback to defend his son, and shockingly, not much has changed since he was a kid getting bullied for being Latin. The insults had changed, but the racism hadn’t — and perhaps if people had any clue about the important and irreversible, positive impact Latin heroes have had on our modern society, there would be more awareness and less intolerance.
It Started With a Mission to Help his Son find Latin Heroes
In addition to the bullying incident at school, Leguizamo realized that he really struggled to come up with any Latin heroes to help his son feel proud about their heritage. The sad reality is that Latinx history isn’t covered nearly enough (or perhaps at all) in textbooks and school curriculum, and growing up he had to learn through osmosis.
Today, he’s on a mission to educate his fans, his critics, Latin youth and the world. As he calls it, his response to his son being bullied and his lack of knowledge led him to become a “ghetto scholar, holla!”
He Perfectly Blends Funny with Factual
Let’s talk about what makes a good teacher a really good teacher. Reciting facts from behind a boring old textbook won’t cut it. It didn’t work when we were kids and it certainly won’t work with today’s youth, a generation of kids glued to a screen and addicted to instant gratification and entertainment at the swipe of a finger.
John Leguizamo's inventive one-man show, "Latin History for Morons," puts the story of an often underrepresented culture center stage. He's one of this year's winners of the #SmithsonianIngenuity Awards from @SmithsonianMag. https://t.co/LvOnPyfCDf
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) November 27, 2018
Leguizamo gets that. After all, he’s a comedian and a master impressionist with an ability to command a stage and grab hold of your attention like no other. He perfectly blends facts with hilarious stories, laugh-inducing impressions, dancing merengue and a whole lot of cursing. Let’s be real, when someone drops an F-bomb on stage, you pay attention. When they drop an F-bomb and then proceed to drop some knowledge, you really pay attention.
Latin History for Morons is Like Cliffsnotes for Latin History
If it seems like covering the history of an entire civilization and the history of an entire culture in 90 minutes is aggressive and borderline-impossible, you’re not wrong. But think of Latin History for Morons as the Cliffsnotes and not the overly dense old-school textbook.
He talks about history from the days of Mayans in 1000 BC until today (what he calls the days of Pitfall, dale.) He touches on the important facts, the mind-blowing statistics you need to know, the stories and how it all has led us to where we are today.
He Challenges the American Establishment
It’s no secret that Leguizamo is less-than-thrilled with the current administration and our commander-in-chief, whom he feels are perpetuating stereotypes, inciting hate and creating a world that is intolerant and constantly repeating mistakes of our past. In his show Leguizamo literally says, “Columbus was the Donald Trump of the New World, yo,” to a roaring crowd. In an interview with GQ, Leguizamo explains that he never used to be into politics, but the current administration and the state of our world has changed everything for him and for America.
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Latin power in politics! Just a few of the Latinx candidates running for office all across our country! Latinx making a difference! Antonio Delgado for congress (NY), Juana Matias for congress (Mass) , Beto O’Rourke (Tx) for senate (not Latin but has Latin name) Jana Lynne Sanchez for congress (Tx), Lupe Valdez (Tx) for governor, Ammar Campa for congress (Ca), Gina Ortiz Jones for congress (Tx), Xavier Becerra (Ca) attorney general, Bob Menendez (NJ) for senate
As he puts it, this administration “Woke up America, woke us all up…his hate is making us love our country more.” The time to be complacent and voiceless is over, and educating others about Latino contributions to our country and Latin history is how he is changing the world one lesson at a time.
“The time to be complacent and voiceless is over, and educating others about Latino contributions to our country and Latin history is how he is changing the world one lesson history class at a time.”
He’s Not Afraid to Say it Like It Is
Leguizamo does not sugar coat or tone down the facts of history or the facts of his upbringing. IHe is never afraid to say it straight, and that’s part of what makes this history lesson so memorable, so impactful and so damn entertaining.
Leguizamo claims he has spent his entire life learning to tone down his confrontational nature and his aggressive demeanor and channeling his ghetto rage into an effective, powerful way to change people’s mentality.
Latin History is Nonexistent in Many High Schools, and it is Not Okay
Considering what it was like in public schools back in the 50s or 60s, it’s no surprise that Latin history was not taught in textbooks back then. But what about today?
Even now huge chunks of history are left out of lesson plans and many schools do not cover the Latin contributions to American society. How is that okay? It’s not, if you ask Leguizamo. In 2017 he penned an emotional essay and call to action for Billboard, arguing, “we must empower, thrusting knowledge and humanity onto the ignorance of the world.”
He is an Intellectual and a Creative Genius
Let’s talk about what it takes to be able to command a stage all by yourself for 90 minutes, and to completely freakin’ rock it. You need to be a creative genius, able to communicate in a way that people connect to, laugh at, pay attention and listen to. And that’s not all. Because Leguizamo isn’t just doing slapstick or talking about his marriage or his crazy grandmother or his early days in Hollywood or his years growing up in Queens.
He’s teaching an audience of “morons,” as he says (half) jokingly, about Latin American history. He’s teaching about things that happened 3,000 years ago like Christopher Columbus, Inca kings and the foundation of a Latin people. As he puts it, his drug of choice was books, and he really knows his stuff. That said, he’s talking about these heavy topics while running around the stage wearing no pants, making it impossible to lose interest and look away… he’s not just smart, he’s a creative and comic genius.
His Frustration with this Country Has Inspired Action
Once upon a time Leguizamo was enraged about the state of the nation and the way Latin people are treated, or perhaps we should say, disregarded in society. He was angry, he was aggressive, and he resorted to insults and rants and anger. He’s learned a lot, and now resorts to assertive action, but action nonetheless.
You are us, we are with you! https://t.co/stZL0Tv5Ah
— John Leguizamo (@JohnLeguizamo) February 8, 2019
The lack of knowledge and the ignorance around the country has fueled his fire to educate and inspired his desire to influence change. He’s frustrated, he feels under-represented and under-appreciated as so many minorities do, and Latin History for Morons is just the beginning of how he’s attempting to make a difference for himself, his kids and Latinx youth on a larger scale.
His Family is Our Family
When Leguizamo imitates his deaf Uncle Sanny you see bits and pieces of your own crazy (yet wise) relatives. When he talks about his upbringing and how he was bullied for being different, you see remnants of your own childhood.
When he jokes about the fear of La Chancla (the dreaded flip flops used by Latin mothers and grandmothers to threaten/beat their kids with), you really relate to your own early days and wild relationships in your own family. He talks about his life in a way that you not only listen, but also comprehend.
Latinos are Underrepresented in Media, and He’s Ready to Change That
Consider the statistics: according to a recent article from CNN there are approximately 55 million Hispanic people in the United States as of 2018, with Hispanic people being the largest minority in the United States — the second largest ethnic group after whites. Despite that fact, Latin people make up less than 6 percent of on-screen roles, including both TV and movies.
Latin people are left out of awards shows, overlooked for leading roles and simply absent in Hollywood. When they are represented in the media, it’s either in a supporting role or in a stereotypical (aka negative) casting scenario: drug dealers, criminals, villains. Leguizamo is fed up with the status quo for Latinx in media; he’s determined to raise awareness, to educate and to create a future with more positive Latino role models in movies and television.
He Backs It Up With a Reading List
Like any truly effective academic course, Latin History for Morons comes with a syllabus and a recommended reading list. The list is extensive, with over 60 books covering a wide range of genres and styles, but all covering different aspects of Latinx history.
It’s no joke — the suggested reading list includes some of Leguizamo’s favorites such as 1491 by Charles Mann and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, as well as other works written by Latin authors and books with stats and facts, plus books by Leguizamo himself for extra credit.
He’s Writing for Himself, but Speaking to All of Us
In an interview with GQ, Leguizamo explains that at the end of the day, he’s really writing this play, and all his works, for himself. He’s not writing exclusively to a Latin audience or a white audience or to the administration or the critics or his fans.
He’s writing for himself, to himself, about his experiences and his political views. “I’m writing for me. What I would like to see, what I would like to feel. What I like to experience. And hopefully, you know, that’s specific enough that it becomes universal. Because if you are specific enough, shit becomes universal.”
He Wants to Inspire Latinx Youth
After years of trying to justify the numbers of the Latinx population compared to the percentage of Latin people in the public eye, in positions of power and on the big screen, Leguizamo realized it’s not something you can just brush aside.
Its illegal now to be Latinx in some parts of America!! Wtf! https://t.co/5HbGZ5NznF
— John Leguizamo (@JohnLeguizamo) February 15, 2019
He’s done. In an essay published in Billboard, he talks about how he can no longer justify the inaction of people who turn a blind eye to the inequality, and how he’s determined to make a change for his kids, and for the Latinx youth, for the future.
He Will Change the Way You See the World
Love or hate his larger-than-life humor and personality, one thing is undeniable: John Leguizamo knows his stuff. He did his homework, he researched the crap out of Latin history and he isn’t just educated, and he’s empowered with this new knowledge. Did you know that 20,000 Latin people fought in the American Civil War? Did you know that 10,000 Latin patriots helped fight in the American Revolution, even serving as generals? And that General Bernardo Galvez, aka American’s Spanish savior, donated $70,000 worth of weapons to George Washington financing the American Revolutionary War?
Leguizamo remind us that Latino people are the only ethnic group that has fought in every single American war, and yet, their contributions and accomplishments aren’t decorated or even mentioned in most history textbooks. The information he shares, the statistics you’ll learn, the facts you’ll absorb from his recommended reading list, and the humor he infuses into it all will change the way you see the world of the past, the present and the future. And be sure to watch Latin History for Morons until the very end, the punchline is well worth every second of this history class.