Hey Latinos, it’s time to learn your history!
John Leguizamo’s Required Reading for America!
Inspired by his one-man show, Latin History for Morons, the comedian recommends three books that challenge one-sided narratives of the past.
“These facts are important because when Latinx kids don’t see themselves represented on stage or film or television or newspapers or history textbooks, what they’re told is, ‘You don’t matter,’” he said. “But when they see themselves represented, then they are told … ‘You are important. You are authors. You are scientists. You are explorers. You are special. You are leaders. You are respected. You are the reason we are here.’”
John Leguizamo is on a mission to teach, as he might put it, “Latin history for morons.”
So far, it’s going well: His one-man show with that same title was nominated for a 2018 Tony Award and released in November as a Netflix special. But the impetus for this educational pursuit didn’t come until a few years ago, when Leguizamo found that his teenage son was being bullied and ostracized because of his race.
“I wanted to give my son the verbal ammunition to defend himself,” Leguizamo said at the Smithsonian’s American Ingenuity Awards Wednesday evening, where he was an awardee. Rather than resorting to physical violence—“the lowest form of communication,” he said—Leguizamo wanted his son to “weaponize his knowledge” so that he would be equipped to respond to bullies and feel proud of his heritage. But as Leguizamo sought to teach his son more about the contributions and impact of Latinx people, he realized just how ignorant he was himself.
“I was struggling with my own Latin self-doubt, and how could I not be? I didn’t have [Latinx] heroes … or generals or scientists or authors or presidents in my textbooks growing up,” he said. “So, where should I have learned that stuff? Holla, my New York City, underfunded, public-school system.”
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