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John Leguizamo On 'Latin History For Morons'


John Leguizamo has just wrapped up his one-man show after a national tour, including a stop here in Washington. He'd been performing it for six years. It's called "Latin History For Morons."


JOHN LEGUIZAMO: I'm embarrassed that I did not know enough about my ancestry to pass on to my kids. I mean, I kind of sort of knew about our Latin timeline. What is that? 1000 B.C. we had Mayans, and then we have now.


LEGUIZAMO: And what is this, the age of Pitbull?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have been wanting to talk to him for a long time. And his being here in Washington is a great opportunity. So here he is. John Leguizamo, thank you for being with me.

LEGUIZAMO: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What have you seen change while you've been performing "Latin History For Morons?" I mean, obviously, you started it because your son was bullied.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you wanted to sort of talk about Latino history in this country. So what's changed?

LEGUIZAMO: Well, an election happened. And a midterm...


LEGUIZAMO: ...Election happened.


LEGUIZAMO: And now we're almost ready for another election. And that's what, I think, helped galvanize a lot of what I was saying because, I mean, a lot of what I was talking about on the show obviously predated the 2016 election. I mean, the only thing that changed was my outrage about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, hate crimes against Latinos are up 41%.

LEGUIZAMO: Yeah. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Whereas, like, hate crimes against Muslims are down, actually, against Jews are down. But Latinos, obviously, are being targeted through the rhetoric. We're hearing words like infestation.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, it's...

LEGUIZAMO: Demonized by...


LEGUIZAMO: ...The words that the president uses.




LEGUIZAMO: Yeah. Well, mostly him. I mean, his rhetoric against Latin people becomes sort of like a mandate. It's like a - it's not even a dog whistle. It's so blatant. And for all the pushback, all the sort of not being asked to be at the table where the big decisions are being made, we're still making big inroads because we're - we've added $2.3 trillion to the U.S. economy. If we were our own country, it'd be the eighth largest economy in the world. So even with all these horrors and hate mongering from the president and Republicans allowing that to happen, we're still thriving, which is how we've always survived.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And yet at a moment when this is happening, when you're seeing family separations at the border, you're seeing a lot of policies that really are aimed squarely at Latinos, we still see this invisibility that you talk about, this erasure. I mean, if you look at your own industry, I think a report came out that said that only 4.5% of speaking roles went to Latino actors.

LEGUIZAMO: I know. And that's because I wrote an article a year ago saying we were at 3%, complaining in Billboard magazine. But we already went up 1.5 because we started complaining. We're the second largest ethnic group in America after white people. And yet Nielsen boxes are not representing Latinos. So you're diluting our power. In Hollywood, we're 50% of the population and less than 4% of the faces in front of the camera, behind the camera. That's cultural apartheid.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why is it happening, in your view? This is something I've been grappling with because, you know, I head a national news program. And not a week goes by where I don't get an email from a listener complaining about too much Hispanic content on my show. And that's even on weeks when there is only me on the show and no other Latinos...

LEGUIZAMO: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And no other Latino content. And the letters always start with, I'm not a racist but. And I'm trying to understand what it is that they're hearing. Why are they hearing something different just because my name is Lulu Garcia-Navarro?

LEGUIZAMO: I mean, the president has definitely fueled the sort of - with racist people, he's giving them a voice. He's giving them a sense that they can speak out because...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I'm not sure these people are racist in the way that we would understand it.

LEGUIZAMO: They may not call you a derogatory term to your face. But they don't want you. You know, like, I do speeches across the country where I vilify The New York Times and Hollywood. And you'll get, like, a couple or two - older white couple, who I guess just watch Fox News, and they started booing and said, go back to Mexico. You know what? I said, that's cool. I'm not - but I'm not from Mexico. I'm Colombian Puerto Rican. And that's good. And the audience started turning against them. And I said no, no, no. This is a country of free speech. They're cool to say what they want. I just was correcting them. And I move on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, you've written all these editorials. You give speeches. You advocate for this all the time. Who are you talking to when you go around the country? Who...

LEGUIZAMO: All of it. All of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who are you speaking to?

LEGUIZAMO: All of you, every single one of you because we can't do it completely alone. And that's who I'm talking to. I'm talking to - yeah, the audience is very mixed. And they're coming to listen to me talk. And I'm talking very political. And I'm talking about our Latin contributions and our lack of inclusion and a seat at the table. And I think it's making differences. And when I wrote my article about our invisibility in Billboard, then it got echoed by other Latin artists in different publications. And it starts to build, starts to build momentum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the message can't just be, you need to do it because you should do it because we're 17% of the population.

LEGUIZAMO: But that's not the - see, that's the ugly question in the room that's, why aren't we there? Because we're not talented enough? We're not smart enough? There's so many brilliant people out there that are just excluded because they're Latino. I've been pitching scripts to Hollywood for 30 years. And I always thought it was that, oh, maybe I'm just a bad writer. Maybe I just don't write well enough because it was always rejected. Oh, you know, Latin people don't really want to see Latin people. Oh, Latin people don't want to see feel-good movies - with all this Hollywood wisdom that really just racism. Or just, they don't get us. And that's WHY we need Latin executives there. And there's plenty of Latin people who are super talented, super capable of each job that have not been given that job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This journey started for you six years ago with this show. And, as we mentioned, it was because your son was bullied. I'm curious how he's doing now after you've done all this for him.

LEGUIZAMO: My son is doing great. He's really thriving. He's in college now - an economics major and poli sci minor. And I hope the poli sci is because of my influence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But when you look at him and you see what he might be in the future, what does the future look like for him, you know, in this country as a Latino?

LEGUIZAMO: Well, let's hope it's a lot better. I mean - and it should be a lot better. I mean, when Latinos have direct access to their targeted audience, we are successful. That's why we have Latin baseball players who are successful IN everywhere and doing great - and managers because those are stats, and you can measure that. Why are we crushing it in music? Cardi B, Camila Cabello, Ozuna, Bad Bunny, J Balvin, J.Lo - why are we crushing it? Because as you can scan the purchases. But everywhere else, where it's gray and somebody's, you know - led at somebody's discretion, that's where we're not succeeding.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Leguizamo - his show is called "Latin History For Morons." Thank you so much.

LEGUIZAMO: Thank you for having me. It was a blast.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENNIFER LOPEZ SONG, "DO IT WELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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