Actor John Leguizamo discussed the creative process for his one-man comedy play, “Latin History for Morons,” with award-winning director Tony Taccone at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Wednesday. Nearly 60 people attended the Center on Public Diplomacy event, titled “Latin History for Morons: Theatre and Public Diplomacy.”
CPD partnered with the Center Theatre Group to host the event in an effort to teach the USC community about the role of art in storytelling and how entertainment can be an educational tool. Leguizamo’s comedy show, which has been on Broadway and was a taped Netflix special, seeks to engage and educate audiences about the history of great Latinx contributions to the world.
He was inspired to create the show after learning that his 12-year-old son was getting bullied and racially profiled at school. He said that educating the public about Latinx history is empowering.
While researching the project, Leguizamo discovered that Latinx people were influential in all of American history, yet the stories of these heroes were not told in history classes.
“[Latin Americans] are the only ethnic group to have fought in every single war America has ever had,” Leguizamo said. “The second oldest ethnic group in America, after Native Americans.”
This type of shocking “cultural apartheid,” as Leguizamo put it, resulted in a gap in the American public’s knowledge concerning Latinx history, that Leguizamo strives to fill with his show.
In his show, Leguizamo presents Latinx history with as much informational depth as he can, while striving to make it comedic in an attempt to keep the audience properly engaged with the historical material. His inspiration for this format was his own educational experience in school.
“My favorite teachers and professors were always the most outrageous and the funniest,” Leguizamo said. “Tony and I took it to an exaggerated place as I want to reach young Latinx people.”
Taccone added that the show had to balance humor with respect and that no actor can make everyone happy.
“There are also comic edges, [like] at what point … [is a joke] too offensive … you try to find what the balance is,” Taccone said. “One of the great things about John is that he is equally skilled as a comic actor as he is as a dramatic actor.”
Many audience members were curious about how Leguizamo was able to synthesize Latin American history and about whether he views himself as a cultural ambassador for Latinx people. Leguizamo said he thinks of himself less as a role model and more as a figure that his community can relate to.
“Latin kids had never seen a Latin person on stage,” he said. “I don’t go into it thinking I’m representing my people, but I do go into it thinking I’m talking to my people. I’m a mirror…so [Latinx people] can see themselves, to see that we have value … and [are] culturally relevant.”
Leguizamo emphasized how the purpose of the show is to pay respect to the Latinx community.
“In ‘Latin History For Morons’ the ‘morons’ [are] all of us. We [Latin people] ourselves don’t know our contributions to America, let alone the world,” Leguizamo said. “The purpose of the show is to give Latinx people self-respect and to ask other people — non-Latin — to respect us [too].”
Lenora Quinonez, a graduate student studying public diplomacy, found the event enlightening and appreciates Leguizamo’s goal to represent Latin history in a respectful and meaningful way.
“I don’t really know that much about Latin history,” she said, “but I’m more interested now.”
Ashley Baird, a graduate student studying communication management, said she attended the event to learn more about Latinx culture.
“My husband is a Mexican immigrant … so I want to learn more about Latin culture,” Baird said.“My family has always been open-minded to other cultures, so I’m interested to learn more.”
However, not everyone is as open-minded when watching the show. Leguizamo acknowledges that he cannot please everyone.
“You can’t be an artist and want to please. I think you have to do your work and take the consequences,” Leguizamo said.