Most American History textbooks are lying to us. The Eurocentric, xenophobic, and excruciatingly myopic view of this land we call America gets a proper re-telling by the hilariously entertaining John Leguizamo in his solo show Latin History for Morons, playing now at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Mr. Leguizamo is such a charismatic performer than he can easily be forgiven for any easy laughs he may go for, in his attempts to edify a mass audience on a history that has been whitewashed to the point of near extinction. This is not to suggest that this show, which is performed as if he were a professor giving a lecture, delves into a collective sense of white guilt, ghetto rage, and liminal historical accuracy, it does all of those things, but to a point. Threading together a narrative of the indigenous peoples of America, which includes the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans, among others, while trying to connect with his twelve-year-old son. Gruesome facts of rape, genocide, disease, and basic human atrocities are woven together with the everyday struggles he faces as a man of color and a father. And the result is wonderfully entertaining, eye-opening, and anger inducing.
We are at such a pivotal moment in American history, and he never passes up an opportunity to take shots at our current administration, congress, famous sexual predators and sometimes a generalization or two makes its way into the text. But rather than feel these are oversimplified and easy targets, it wants to make the point that sometimes you have to flip a narrative on itself if you want to change the outcome of a story. The dramatic irony here, for performer and audience alike, is that when art is meant to be divisive and inciting, sometimes, in order to change how the majority views a minority, the performer must behave in the same manner as the majority by ridiculing and mocking an entire group of people. And those of us in the audience who are apart of the majority, we must take our lumps, not to feel guilt, but as a means of acknowledgement. We are the morons to which the title refers. And to a large extent, moron means ignorant, and most of us truly are about this subject. And so the humorous mocking of us is a give and take meant to incite change, not division.
This ninety-minute show is fueled by a zany, high-octane, and passionate performance from John Leguizamo. As the author and performer, he has infused this piece with broad humor, snippets of his personal life, and of course several hilarious impressions of the people in his life as well as historical figures and celebrities. But our laughter is really just a side effect of what seems to be his intention. Edification seems to be what he wants to do with this show. He spews so many facts about the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and he does so at such a dizzying pace, one can’t help but imagine his mind must look as chaotic as the blackboard he uses to scribble facts, dates, drawings, and maps on.
Most importantly, I believe, behind the jokes, the vitriol, or what he calls his ghetto rage, this is a performer performing a piece that wants to unify us. America is already so divided it doesn’t take much for someone to further divide us. Mr. Leguizamo is not attempting to do that. He’s justifying, sure, he justifies his anger with his facts; he justifies his generalizations with the truth. But he also reveals. He reveals his insecurities, both as a performer and a father through his humor, and he reveals his humanity through his willingness to be wrong. This is a searching for one’s history, a history that he has been robbed of, and a history that is still affecting and lessening the lives of millions of Americans because of xenophobia, and what he calls the narcissism of small differences. So this is political art with an agenda. And what is the agenda? To restore as much of this lost history as we can. To remove the shame from an entire people that are educated to believe they are less-than based on birthplace and skin color. A call toward sensible reinstating of history in textbooks and in classrooms everywhere. If we all start talking about it, maybe our voice will be louder than those who oppose it. This isn’t a question of politics nor a debate about whose interpretation of history is correct, this is simply a moral argument between right and wrong. This show can be a great introduction for anyone unfamiliar with American History, and the humor makes it palatable and entertaining. But it is Mr. Leguizamo’s deep sense of justice that just might serve as a propellant through which the entire spirit of a decimated people can still soar.
Latin History for Morons
Written by and Starring John Leguizamo
Directed by Tony Taccone
135 N. Grand Ave. Downtown LA 90012