U.S. history classes have long disregarded the impact and struggles of Latinx people. The result of this neglect is what Emmy Award-winning performer John Leguizamo describes in the program book of his new play “Latin History for Morons” as “ghetto aggression” — repressed anger towards society for ignoring and erasing the significance and contributions of Latinxs. Rather than wallow in this anger, Leguizamo turns to humor to relieve it. His new one-man performance opened March 27 at The Public’s Anspacher Theater.
Leguizamo’s performance and history lesson are structured around a series of conversations he had with his son, who was bullied and unable to identify a Latinx hero for his school history project. Leguizamo embarks on a mission to help his son find a worthy Latinx hero by schooling him on the importance of Latinx people throughout U.S. history. He explains that Latinx people have been soldiers and even leaders in every American war. Yet his son remains unconvinced. Unimpressed by Latinx war heroes, Leguizamo’s son wants a Latinx hero who lives up to his own standards. In response to his son’s dissatisfaction, Leguizamo sets out to grapple with his own issues with his Latinx identity.
During his performance, Leguizamo cites a number of academic texts that cover the Latinx histories passed over by traditional American history curriculums. As he runs around his small classroom-like stage, he picks up and references books ranging from modern texts like, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn to historical accounts such as “The Florentine Codex” by Bernardino de Sahagun. However, his atypical history lesson varies drastically from a traditional academic setting. Leguizamo’s humor, which incorporates sexual innuendo, Latin music dance numbers and jabs at political leaders, keeps the entire class and audience engaged. The fact that he quizzes audience members — and shames them for not knowing the right answer — is another reason to pay rapt attention.
Although Leguizamo’s humor draws plenty of laughter from the audience, it is unfortunate that he occasionally resorts to sexist or racist jokes — particularly as his material focuses on the erasure of the achievements of a group of people as a result of racism. However, his strongest jokes are those that bring historical references into conversation with current realities. Overall, Leguizamo is incredibly successful in bringing to life the stories of historical figures and peoples by relating them to modern culture. He is a captivating performer, skilled at making the audience contemplate the shortcomings of traditional American history classes and the impact of this misinformation on today’s society and youth. In the end, Leguizamo’s journey with his son ends with a heartwarming message as they both learn to cope with the marginalization of Latinx history and understand what their identities mean to them.
“Latin History for Morons” is playing at The Public’s Anspacher Theater at 425 Lafayette St. through April 23.