Highlights from the LAM Night with John Leguizamo

By Lupita Peimbert

When people exited the theater right after Latino comedian John Leguizamo had performed “Latin History for Morons,” at the Berkeley Rep, they looked happy and relaxed as if they had been laughing nonstop.

The Solo show that runs 90 minutes with no intermission is about cultural stereotyping and how Latinos are negatively characterized in the United States. Rumor has it that some people perpetuated these characterizations because they lacked information and understanding about who Latinos are, where Latinos come from, and how their history developed. Leguizamo used humor and theatrics to enlighten the audience on all things Latino.

Leguizamo has a commanding presence on stage. Not only does he dart around, moving into different characters with ease, but he also “moves”, figuratively speaking, the entire audience to the left and to the right, to whatever side of the stage he goes to while telling stories. It is great exercise for the head and the eyes, while laughing.

During a recent Leguizamo’s performance, members of the LAM­ Network had plenty to say about the show after watching the energetic Leguizamo on stage. This organization is comprised of Latino professionals and others who love Latino culture. Most of them are in their 20’s and 30’s, and some are a little older. But what they all love is to go out and gather at interesting events.

But first, allow me to briefly share what the show is about. Leguizamo presents Latin history and culture to help solve a family issue; his son doesn’t know much about his ancestry. Although somewhat superficial in content, Leguizamo’s show brings to light a series of facts about the contributions of Latinos to the United States, and also about the importance of Native ­Americans ­­from all the Americas, including the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru. Leguizamo goes on and on highlighting their importance, while asserting “We were here first!.” He also shares that his wife is Jewish, implying a bunch of idiosyncrasies.

I had seen the show the week before, and if you want to see my review (grammatical mistakes and all) please go here: To Learn and Laugh.

Overall, members and friends of LAM had positive things to say, and it seems the show sparked plenty of intelligent conversations. But some didn’t find enough “substance.” Apparently, they wanted a combination of information, cultural relevancy, and wit. The expectation was that this particular show, because it is supposed to promote the positive in Latino culture, was not going to just make you laugh. It was supposed to also make you think, and furthermore, it could take you to new heights by virtue of exploring the components of Latino history at a deeper level, and with a greater dose of examples of Latino greatness.

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“I didn’t like the show at all. I found the supposed ‘historical information’ to be outdated and overly repeated. It lacked current events, and the achievement of Latinos in the present time, in the US and Latin America,” said Luz Gonzalez.

After all, the people in the Bay Area are expected to be a little more sophisticated, well informed and globally­aware of their culture and the culture of others. Why? Because the Bay Area is a hub for innovation and new technologies, has a history of being ahead of its time in social and cultural issues, and is an ever changing mosaic of cultural exchange, perhaps now more than before.

“I did enjoy the show, but I found it lacking spiritual depth,” said Olga Talamante, the founder and executive director of the Chicana­Latina Foundation. “What I mean is that our ancestors had certain spiritual development, and their enlightenment not only influenced their actions but had this acknowledged­presence in everyday life. We, Latinos, bring that reverence and spiritual strength.”

john_5“We loved every bit of Leguizamo’s performance, and it has left us proud, but also thinking,” said Susana, Coralia, and Yeni, three sisters of Salvadoran descent. “We are thinking about how important it is to remember where we come from, and the wealth of culture we, Latinos, are part of. We feel proud of our roots, and want to remember that everywhere we go: that we descend from glorious ancestry, and don’t dare to see us as less.”

The sisters also noticed an aspect of the Solo show that inevitably shows Leguizamo’s fatherly wisdom. “By talking about his son, and his desire to protect and empowering him, he is showing what a committed father he is, and how much he participates in raising his children.”

Some couples that were still smiling when thinking about Leguizamo’s jokes, agreed that the Latino comedian’s mastery in wit and dynamism kept the audience entertained.

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“We were laughing one minute after the other; the many of jokes and the things mentioned are experiences we know, and seeing them on stage was very funny. He is an amazing performer,” said Margarita Ramirez and Denis Cajina Jr.
“We felt proud to see a Latino on stage, one who has achieved high recognition in our country. John Leguizamo does not only makes us laugh but he makes us proud: of him, our successes, and our history,” commented Lori Beltran and Rafik Hanna.

john_1“He was funny and right on it, in the historical fights he mentioned. Leguizamo expanded the usual conversation about Latinos and reminded us how important we are to this country, but also how important is the culture we come from,” said the couple pictured above.

Now Johnny Dear,I am going to tell you this and please be open: Revise your content a little bit by mentioning Latino contributions closer to our time. For instance, the guy who invented color television was, yes, a Mexican scientist. There is a list of high achievers from Mexico, Central and South America. Within the US Hispanic population there are key players in high tech, politics, and business. And for whatever is worth the Mexican team just won the Homeless Soccer World Cup. Aja. Yes. It is true. Google it.

In conclusion, please do more homework and improve your game game because we, Latinos do not just eat Burritos or Chili con Carne. Got it? ;­)!

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Moronsplays at the Berkeley Rep in downtown Berkeley until August 14.