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John Leguizamo’s Road to Broadway

Go behind-the-scenes of John Leguizamo’s Tony-nominated one-man show, Latin History for Morons, a comic but pointed look at how Latino culture has been portrayed and repressed throughout American history.

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-Next, 'Great Performances' teams up with Latino Public Television, Voces.

-So, yo, tonight's lesson is... -For a behind-the-scenes look at John Leguizamo's hit show.

-'Latin History For Morons.'

And that's you.

I've always been fascinated by Latin history, and just never really delved as deeply as I wanted to until my son got bullied at school.

-All the steps it took to realize his personal quest.

-Then it really came together in my head, you know, how to empower my son.

-'John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway' is next.

-'You Americans...' [ Rehearsing lines indistinctly ] ...not even the [indistinct] are as good as you.

I don't know how you people do it.

You Americains are so good that I just don't know... ♪♪ ♪♪ I can't really pinpoint the exact moment when 'Latin History For Morons' metastasized inside of me.

[ Vocal exercises ] ♪♪ The process was a long process.

I mean, it wasn't just a few months and then I wrote a play.

No its been years and years to get it to Broadway.

Whoo! Here we go.

-And now, please welcome John Leguizamo!

[ Spanish-language hip-hop playing ] ♪♪ What's up people?

[ Cheering and applause ] -John Leguizamo came on to my radar when he exploded in the whole American theater.

We all noticed John Leguizamo.

-Latino people in the house bark.

[ Audience members barking ] That's my people.

-We'd had solo shows.

We'd had monologists.

But for the most part, these were really well educated, soft spoken white dudes who would get up and tell ironic, interesting stories about their lives.

And suddenly, there was this ball of fire from the streets of New York, who not only wasn't pretending to be anybody but who he was, but who was exhibiting the most embarrassing and real parts of himself to the world, and making extraordinary humor out of it.

-[ Screaming ] John!

Aah! Mom!

What are you doing climbing in through the window?

Mi'jo!

The rent is due!

-I see this firebrand on stage with the energy of five people.

I was astonished at this freewheeling talent.

-Cause I'm young, gifted and Latino, word, let me tell ya.

Ahh! Ahh!

-So dynamic, so much movement and physical characterization; everything that I really admired in a performer.

But I'd never seen anyone with that kind of talent.

-All right, Ma, I'm gonna be straight up with ya, I'm, uh, I'm in a little trouble, all right.

I'm at the 110th precinct.

Now, I'm telling you, this is the last time, Ma.

I swear to God this is never gonna happen again, okay?

-He's constantly reminding you of his humanness and his vulnerability.

And I actually think that's what elevates his art to another level.

-To my first born... I love you... But you're a disappointment.

-John and his work have changed the American theater landscape.

He has brought the voice of working-class Latinos into the mainstream, into the spotlight, into the center of the American theater.

-Oh, come on, ese, its not like I'm stealing or living off of you good peoples' taxes!

I'm doing the -- jobs that Americans don't want.

What? Well, tell me -- just tell me -- who the hell wants to work for $2.25 an hour picking toxic, pesticide-coated grapes.

All my shows have helped me grow in some aspect or in a part of my life, but this one, this one was about healing my sense as a Latin person in America.

No, no, no no, settle down.

No, no, stop, stop, stop.

No, seriously, stop -- we got a lotta work to do here tonight.

And I got very little time to do it.

'Cause I gotta undo your whole education and the entire way you think, and its not gonna be easy, 'cause that -- in there deep.

-John framed the story of 'Latin History' as him trying to discover his own Latin past when he discovers that his son is being harassed for being a Latin kid.

-And I get to my son's room, and I find out that my son is being bullied by one of his eighth grade classmates.

And it starts out in the school yard when they're just playing cops and robbers, and the little punk says to my son, 'You beaners can't be cops!

I ought to know -- I come from a long line of captains and generals from the Civil War.

You better start running away before I shoot you in the back, you little beaner.'

-And so they go on this quest, you know, to find a Latin hero.

And that becomes John's very real autobiographic story about him not knowing a lot about his own cultural past.

-I've worked hard to be sort of respectable.

So, how is it that my son is going through the same racial rite of passage as I did?

When kids used to pick on me, it was hard for me to argue back because I didn't know... I didn't know anything about Latin history.

So you have no comeback, you have no comeback I mean, they go, 'Get out of my country, you don't belong here, this is my country,' I mean, I would, like, be like... So, in order to help my son, I realized that I was going to have to get to the root of my problem -- my feeling like a second-class citizen.

So, I started flashing back through my life, to my childhood, back in time, back... ♪♪ So, here we are in Jackson Heights -- my home town, where I grew up.

This was where I went to junior high school -- that's 'middle school' to the fancy folk.

[ Bell rings ] And New York City was close to bankruptcy back then.

Remember that New York Post headline?

'Ford to City: Drop Dead'? So, we were 50 feral latchkey kids per class.

It was like 'Lord of the Flies,' but with a lot less adult supervision.

Education at that point was not a big priority of mine.

My history teacher, Mr. Flynn... I think, that's all part of the fact that we're not included in any history textbooks, any of the literature.

And by 'we,' I mean, Latin people and people of color.

We're not the subject matter of any of the stories you're being told or taught.

Um, yo, yo, yo, Mr. Flynn, what I really, really, really wanted to ask you is, um, how come you talkeded about everybody else's contributions to America but my people's?

'Cause, yo, my Uncle Sandy, he says that this whole thing about us being discovereded by this -- Colombo, it's, like, bull, you know, 'cause we was conquesteded.

So, that's like me discovering your wallet in your back pocket and now it's mine, right?

Right? [ Laughs ] Mr. Guizmo, you want to know what your people have contributed to this country?

Drugs and violence. Now, sit your ignorant ass down.

♪♪ I didn't learn a lot of history, but I did get a sense of pride from growing up in Jackson Heights because my neighbors were predominantly Latin and all my friends were from every country in Latin America.

And you get a sense of pride from that.

And I realized that, you know, Latin humor, Latin culture was bigger than what I was being told at school and what I was being told through the messaging that comes from television.

♪♪ Everybody around me was Latin.

Everybody appreciated being Latin.

We weren't ashamed of ourselves within our own community.

Its only when you got outside of it that you realize, 'Oh, wow, I wonder what our worth is,' you know?

Well, what happened in the 3,000 years between our great indigenous civilizations and us?

How did we become so non-existent?

Because if you don't see yourself represented outside of yourself, you just feel invisible.

The whole thing about the play was to address the issues, that, why are we such a populous people with incredible resources, and why aren't we as successful?

'Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, coño.'

♪♪ Is the European and the American white version of us true -- that somehow, we're inferior?

Otherwise, why aren't we further along?

And then I started doing all this research, and it was very, very powerful for me.

And I went through a lot of different complex emotions when I started doing the research.

-Most Americans do not know that most of what is today United States, was at one point either a part of the Spanish empire or part of Mexico.

We are talking about everything west of the Mississippi.

-Right. -Three-quarters of the United States, right? That should be obvious.

Look at the state names.

'Arizona,' what does that mean? -Dry land.

-Colorado? -Red land.

-There is like, I don't know, 260 counties that have Spanish names in the United States.

Mexicans are the first group that became citizens -- much earlier than Black Americans, much earlier than Native Americans, much earlier than... -If they were white, but what if they were mestizo?

-They were classified as white because it's -- -Even? Oh, wow. -Because only whites could be citizens.

-I didn't realize, I started doing all this research, and all of a sudden I found out that 10,000 Latin people participated in the Revolutionary War, that Cuban women in Virginia gave up all their jewelry to feed the patriots.

And then I found out that 20,000 Latin people served in the Civil War.

-Francisco Miranda, who fought for American independence, should have a big statue next to Washington, I guess.

-That's right -- where is that damn statue?

-It's not there, and if it is, it'd be white marble.

[ Laughter ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -This is called a labret.

It's an ornament that would have been worn through the lower lip.

-I mean, imagine if that picked up with the rappers.

[ Stammering ] It wouldn't work.

-Well, it's tough to eat breakfast with it.

-Yeah, yeah, that would be tough.

-But it's a thrilling piece, and it's a really rare piece because one of the things we have to understand with the Aztecs is that the Spaniards arrived and they very quickly melted things down into ingots, or they brought things back to Europe and melted them down later to raise money for various wars.

This is a very fragile heritage and hugely important for our understanding of the ancient world in a global sense.

The Aztecs and the Inca built on thousands of years of complex societies before them.

You think about the Maya, there was nothing so big in Europe at this time.

The architecture, the soaring temples, the great palaces, you know, it makes places like Paris and London look like backwaters.

-Wow.

I've always been fascinated by Latin history, and I just never really delved as deeply as I wanted to until my son got bullied at school -- especially when it became a racial bullying.

'Latinos' -- this is the section right here, man.

Latinos... Hispanic Research Directory, Brown Tide Rising.

♪♪ Then it really came together in my head, you know, how to empower my son, you know?

-I think John wanted to make sure that his children knew where they came from and who they were, and to be proud of that.

It was for his kids, and I think it was for, also, his community.

♪♪ -The most exciting part for me was when I got to our contributions in American history -- that's when I really started to feel like, oh, my God, now I feel this needs to be known.

♪♪ -John mentioned to me that he was working on a new piece, and we have this program here called The Ground Floor, and I just asked him if he'd be interested in being part of The Ground Floor, which means you're coming out in residence, there's no pressure on coming up with a finished product, but you have to sort of decide that you want to work on something in a safe environment.

And he came out and he spent about a week and a half with us.

At that point, he had a bunch of lectures, really.

They were these initial essays about Latin history.

Um... They weren't funny.

-It was mostly history, with a little -- with the -- my son's things and the family stuff very peripheral, because I didn't want it to be about my family.

I wanted it to be about the history.

-This is where I think, actually, the germination of something larger happened on the project.

♪♪ -Fast forward, like, a few months later, I'm in New York, and he asked me to meet him for coffee.

It's pouring rain.

I remember just being soaked completely when I got in there.

And we get in this place, and sit down, and we get a coffee and he said, 'Will you help me work on this piece?'

-I asked him to direct it because I knew he had vast experience in theater, and I really needed that expertise with this piece.

-At that point in my life, I was done with solo shows.

I was done.

Directing a solo show, honestly, it's like being a midwife.

It's not even directing -- it's kind of like you're part dramaturge, part director, part therapist, part colleague, part friend.

It's a very different kind of relationship, you're really -- it's a more intimate relationship.

But the fact that I had made up my mind that I was not going to do solo work, and John says, 'Hey, will you work on my show?' I said, 'Yes, of course,' -When Tony came in, I was ready for a new inspiration, to be reinvigorated, to be challenged.

-He said to me right away, he said, like, 'I'm not going to feel comfortable unless I perform this thing 200 or 300 times before we do it.'

I'm like, '200 or 300 times?

What, are we playing, like, bar mitzvahs and weddings? What are we doing here?'

♪♪ -Right now we are performing a reading of a show that is a work on progress.

This is called 'Latin History for Dummies.'

Please welcome the one and only John Leguizamo.

[ Cheering and applause ] -The poor people in these comedy clubs, they were not ready for what I was about to bring.

I was going to do it my way.

But, yo, this is the way I work my stuff out, you know, I test it in front of audiences, I did Freak and Ghetto Klown this way, I read it first.

[ Cheering and applause ] Thank you, thank you.

My process has always been to read it -- because if I lock it in my mind and I memorize it, then it doesn't change.

I always read it off my own computer.

You know, 'cause I can't keep all these facts in my head.

My mother told me not to do drugs, I should have listened to her.

That's my experimentation time and I got to protect it fiercely.

I need to have total flexibility.

So, in the next 80 minutes, I'm gonna take you through 3,000 years of Latin history... 'Years.'

So, it's kind of like Latin History for Dummies with ADHD.

[ Laughter ] There were a lot of fans who came up afterwards.

Like, 'I thought it was going to be funny, I thought you were going to be talking about your family, it was like a history lesson.'

So with all the diseases and the brutal enslavement of these peoples, that was the end of the Tainos and their time in Earth.

[ Audience awws ] I realized that as much as I love the history and my friends who I read it for -- [ Laughs ] in my basement office, they all love their history; the public wanted more personal life.

I was dating this Cuban chick and I was laying down the law on her, like an idiot.

And I was like, 'Look, mami, look, I'm gonna be home when I want and if I want, at what time I want, unless I tell you otherwise, and I don't expect any hassles from you.

Those are my rules, any comments?'

And my Cuban honey was like, 'No, that's fine with me.

Just understand that there's gonna be sex here every night at 7 o'clock whether you're here or not.'

[ Laughter and applause ] So I realized that I had to give them history and a personal anecdote that somehow merged with the history.

Oh, yo, if my mom had made that meal for the Pilgrims, their asses would've swam back without the -- Mayflower.

[ Laughter ] And it's very addictive, because they're so focused and ravenous to laugh.

Okay, Cortez -- for short.

And the mother, 'Ay, mi niño...' Mi'jo... No seas pendejo... [ Laughter and applause ] -John is essentially a comic, so he's going to want to entertain people, and want to make it really exciting and fun to watch, but I think one of my jobs on the show was to encourage the other side of him.

So the need to have jokes, you know, on a consistent basis was at odds with where I thought we needed the piece to really go.

-But at the same time I wanted this history to be very palatable to the audience I wanted to reach, which were people like me, and young folk, you know, and turn them on.

And you need -- I needed the JPM's to be high, you know, the jokes per minute.

I needed a high volume of jokes.

And so the comedy clubs gave me that, but then I had to go back to the theater where, you know, people want depth, and they want the teeth, and they want the anger, and they want all the real feelings.

You're gonna listen to me, Dad... ♪♪ 'cause I've been trying to get you to notice me my whole life, Dad.

I first did my first play at Sylvia Lee's Studio, I did 'Dino,' about this troubled kid who was getting arrested.

And it was like, 'Oh, my God, this is my life.'

It was crazy because I was like, 'This play is saying the things that I can't articulate.'

But I knew I could feel them.

-And John did it with such passion.

I was so moved that at that time I said, I think that he has the material.

-I did some student films that won all these awards.

I was on 'Miami Vice,' I was the guest villain on that.

Tubs always did like good-looking women.

Did he tell you about my sister?

-I don't have to talk to you.

-Yeah?

-Orlando, this isn't what you came for.

-The way they typecast Latin people were like, the 7th lead, or we're just the flavor, or we're the guy who comes on the screen and gets shot, he goes, 'Yo, man, what's up, I got the crack right here,' you know -- Pow! And you're dead.

And that's all you have. There's never, like, a three-dimensional character that leads the movie.

[ Gunshots ] I had a lot of white friends, we all went to acting school, we went to NYU together.

They're going to five auditions a day, and I'm going to one, maybe, a month.

For a drug dealer.

'Mambo Mouth,' that was it man, that was like, 'You know what? I'm gonna take things in to my own hands.

I'm not gonna wait for Hollywood to see that I have value.

I'm gonna write my own stuff and do my own stuff because I wanna see my people's stories told.'

I know you're gonna go home and he's gonna beat you and you're gonna let him beat you.

And you're gonna go through this love-hate, hate-love thing until one day you're hiding in the closet with an iron in one hand y crazy glue en la otra.

I was talking about real things and showing them, and making people laugh and making them cry all in the same time.

And that's what I wanted to bring to American comedy.

♪♪ Critical juncture.

-In your repressed ghetto rage. -Repressed ghetto rage.

And then I say I have a latent, but then I say I have a latent ghetto, then I say... -Untreated severe case... -Of latent ghetto rage.

-Chronic latent... -Chronic latent.

Untreated severe case of chronic latent ghetto rage.

You reached a critical juncture in your repressed ghetto rage... Repressed ghetto rage.

-We went from the comedy clubs to La Jolla.

La Jolla was our first serious theatrical venue.

-Right now I'm just trying to act and be in my characters and make them more specific from the stand-up comedy clubs.

That was kind of just reading it, but now I have inhabit them, they've gotta become different and deeper, and now that the wife was added more, and the daughter, and the son's journey became really important.

It's a theater piece now, so they have to have real arcs, and real specific characters, so that's what I've gotta work on.

I gotta stay true to my own rhythms... It's getting more and more complex, and that's what you want, a really complex piece.

Before, it was more like jokes.

Now, I'm really being tested as a playwright.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Rehearsing indistinctly ] -La Jolla, the Page To Stage program they have there was a limited number of performances in which John was able to develop the piece in front of a live audience.

-Please welcome John Leguizamo!

[ Cheering and applause ] -That's incredibly valuable because it was a live audience, but it wasn't a comedy club.

-I walk out of my therapist's office with an untreated severe chronic case of latent ghetto rage, and I don't even know what to do, man!

The only thing I can do till the next session was dig in to more research because I thought if I could find a hero for myself then maybe it would cure me of my ghetto rage, right?

-As a live audience in the theater, they had the patience for the seriousness of intent that John had in 'Latin History.'

-And we were three million Tainos in the Caribbean, nine million Incas in South America, six million Aztecs in Mexico, and seven million Apache, Comanche and Navajo in North America, for a grand total of 26 million people, until The Great Extermination.

-So, they were actually willing to let John go to the very thoughtful, very deep places he needed to go to, some of which weren't funny, to make 'Latin History' work.

-We're not outsiders, we're not foreigners.

We're a vast network of tribes that co-mingled, cohabitated North, Central, and South America, Caribbean and Mexican Indians, and we is all the same blood.

It's so vast that, when I had my DNA done, when the results came back, they couldn't tell which tribe I was from.

All it said on the label was 'Native American.'

[ Audience applause ] -John started to take intellectual responsibility for his own history and for the history of his people, and that was a major shift, I think, in who he was as a performer, what he represents for his audience, but more importantly, what he represents for himself.

-The clock is ticking in my head, man, a giant clock was ticking in my head.

-And the places he was going to, kind of, understand who he was, and not to diminish the substance and the serious content of what he was trying to talk about by distracting us with comedy.

-So I started double-checking and triple-checking all my facts to get it right for him, and I find this book by Howard Zinn.

And I realize... [ Light applause ] Oh, yeah, he gets an applause, that bastard.

I got to say, La Jolla was brutal.

La Jolla was the most changes, experimenting with whole new scenes.

Sometimes I had to read them because they were so fresh, there's no way I could remember them.

Um... line... Oh, yeah, we were happy go lucky tribes... Somebody was on book, they knew I was gonna ask for line, it was where I could make the most aggressive changes.

And I knew that, so I used that opportunity.

My hero is... My hero is... And I'm already standing up.

I was testing things out, you know, and I was testing a lot of different endings.

My hero is... My hero is my mom.

[ Laughter and applause ] Thank you, thank you.

Thank you, thank you.

-When we're in La Jolla, we sort of came up with a shape, a general shape for the evening.

There's a lecture going on, where John is lecturing with the audience, he's the 'teacher.'

And then there's the story about a parent who's trying to reach his kid; and then there's the story of John in therapy, essentially -- John trying to understand his own psychology.

-Yeah!

-I want to shake your hand. -Aww.

The beautiful thing about these theatre towns like Chicago, Berkeley, La Jolla, and New York, is that the audiences are trained to watch works in progress.

I don't know if you feel a difference from L.A., but people really like theater here, man.

-Yeah!

-And they're willing to stay extra, and they like to comment, and they like to feel like they're a part of the contribution of the making of the piece.

-It felt like your son choosing his mother as the hero is a really feminist way to add to the play... -Yeah, yeah, yeah. -But, then, because it was 'Latin American History for Morons,' it felt like, but I wanted the hero or heroine to be Latino.

Or Latinx. -Yeah, yeah, no, I know what you're saying, it definitely, when I heard that, I was like, 'Oh, yeah, I forgot... I forgot that my wife was white.

[ Laughter ] They were all making sure that I wasn't selling out Latin people or white-ifying Latin history.

They were pushing me to put more teeth into it.

I feel like we got the pillars.

-Absolutely.

-And its just the little kerfuffle's.

-You got the narrative, the flow... -We got the history we want.

We got the history the way we want it.

Now it's a matter for getting the family, me and my wife things, the headmaster thing, my daughter thing, and some of my son and me things.

-And the you thing.

-The me thing -- yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

-All the way along, because we're tracking you, dude.

-Right, right, right.

-And so, so -- but its all gonna be... -I mean I feel like they're there, I mean, it's just a matter of highlighting them, bringing them out, or setting them up a little better so they pay off a little better.

-Connecting them up -- connect them up to each other.

Okay, all right, good. -Hey, Oskar, great seeing you man. -See you in New York.

-Yeah, yeah. See you in New York.

-Oskar Eustis, who runs the Public Theater, when I told him I was working on something with John, he said, 'Just tell me when to be there.'

-I wanted to go to The Public.

I mean, that was my big thing.

I wanted to be under Oskar Eustis' wing.

How he shaped 'Hamilton' and helped Lin Manuel achieve his masterpiece.

I wanted to be under that tutelage.

-The basic idea of The Public Theater is about democracy -- the basic idea is that culture belongs to everybody.

And so, if The Public Theater were to design a show that should be at The Public Theater, 'Latin History for Morons' would be that show.

Because its exactly what John's doing in the show.

John is trying to reclaim history for his family, for his son, for himself, for his people.

And that's what The Public Theater is in the business of doing, trying to make everybody the subjects of history, not the objects of history.

-Getting to The Public was like we landed, you know?

So I'm gonna be coming from here.

Here we are in New York City, and the possibilities are real.

The possibility of going to Broadway is real.

The possibilities of this being a long-running play in New York City are real.

-I just want it to feel like a space that you took over.

-Right, right, right. -You know what I mean?

-Like you guerrilla'd it. -Yeah, totally.

-You took it over. Yeah, it's awesome.

I love that idea.

We had a long rehearsal process... [ Whoosh ] Ataquen... [ Imitates fanfare ] Line?

You know, I had put it down for a while.

We were rediscovering it a little bit, and I wanted to have enough time to get these characters, these voices, all this text.

-It goes out of his head pretty quickly.

So, to get that going again took a lot of work and a lot of practice.

I don't care -- as long as we're together.

I'll create a voguing distraction.

But which loincloth should I wear -- the eagle feathers -- 'aah-aah,' or the jaguar -- 'arr!'

[ Humming to dance music ] -My back, my belt.

-Get ready, get served.

[ Humming ] ♪♪ -When we first started doing the dancing stuff, he's like, 'It's gonna take me a year to do this.'

♪♪ -Because there's so much talk, I always like to add dance breaks to let people digest a little bit.

It's like a break for the audience and for me to connect more intuitively on a more instinctual level.

♪♪ ♪♪ -Dude, it is exhausting.

Do a solo show, and you're trying to memorize this stuff and get those dances right.

Physically, the stamina it takes.

John has extraordinary energy, but it is an exhausting thing.

♪♪ And every so often, he would just remind us of that, going, 'Guys --' [ Laughing ] 'I'm dying out here.'

[ Applause ] [ Labored breathing ] -My dancing is like my sex life.

I can only do it once now.

[ Laughter ] It never seems finished, it never seems done.

It just never does, you know?

-John has got a very unique process, because he is so wedded to understanding the material through the performance, and yet he's a very, very rigorous and disciplined writer.

-I don't like it.

Much better.

-What looks to be casually spoken on stage is a result of hours and hours, I mean, hundreds of hours of reflection and practice and going over the material so that he could own it in a way that feels second nature to him.

[ Ululating ] -Gracias!

Oh!

-We're doing cartoon sketches to explain complicated ideas, that gets problematic.

-Problematic but doable... -It's not doable in the same cartoon context, that's the issue.

-We don't fight, but we argue.

There's a difference between fighting and arguing -- I mean, I think arguing is healthy; fighting is not.

We don't fight, like, I don't -- 'This is my territory' -- we fight like, 'That idea is not the best idea.'

-We have three spots. -No, no, no, no, no, when you say the diseases on the blackboard, you do.

You do. -But that's late, that's late in the game. -I know, I know, but we should, we should... -And the Aztecs.

-Where is that? Where is that?

-Don't yell at me. -Where is it?

Goddamn it! -Don't yell at me.

You send me into flashbacks of my childhood.

I can't... -That's good. That's good.

I can't think. I start to, I start to... -It's the only time you were innocent.

-There's always something happening between Tony and John.

I think the real show really is Tony and John talking to each other, then the show itself.

-Insatiable?

-That's not that funny. -It's not supposed to be funny.

-Oh. [ Laughter ] -Jesus Christ.

-It's ham and eggs. You know, it goes together.

They really, really get each other.

-Can I just introduce one idea?

-Please. -On page 8... We talk a lot about history. We talk a lot about politics.

We talk a lot about what's going on in the world and how does it impact the piece, and how does it continually force us to change?

'Cause I think we gotta ask ourselves that question: if we're gonna, like, be satisfied with this other desire we have to kind of redress the imbalance of history as we've learned it, right?

-The two think they're using each other, but Cortez had the upper hand on him.

It's like Trump and Bannon fighting.

And Cortez is Bannon.

So I was writing 'Latin History' way before Trump, but I definitely felt that after Trump won that I had to go harder and not hold back, because he doesn't hold back.

And we're almost 70 million hard-working, contributing Americans, and this president has effectively declared war on us, by publicly denigrating Mexican-Americans and American citizens in Puerto Rico.

[ Applause ] -Mr. Trump is challenging what has become accepted as the conventional truth, as is, ironically, John is challenging the same idea of what is accepted historical fact about Latin history.

-And how dare he?

How dare he, when we're not the enemy -- just quite the opposite, because we're the only ethnic group that has fought in every single war this country's ever had.

We have shed blood for America in each and every single one of their wars.

We're the most-decorated ethnic group in each and every single one of those wars.

Where are our contributions listed, mentioned, or even celebrated?

Can you imagine if they were put back into history, put back into history textbooks?

Can you imagine how America would see us?

And, more importantly, can you imagine how we would see ourselves?

The sort of crisis that John experienced in the course of his intellectual jihad, the way that he was trying to find Latin heroes and simultaneously finding them but somehow failing to help his son.

That dialectic was the core tension of the show, and we needed to make that as strong as possible.

-Dad? Dad, do you not like yourself sometimes too?

Well, honey, I -- I only have the guts to admit it to you.

-Over the course of its development, 'Latin History' both got deeper in its historical mission, but it also became a much more emotional story about the relationship between a father and his son, and how to be a father.

But that's not even the type of kid he was.

But was that the type of kid that I was turning him into?

-And it both is inspiring to watch that whole process, and it's also thrilling to realize one of the things that all that work did for John was make him a better and better human being.

He's found out how to work out his demons through his art and heal.

-And I go out there with the courage of a little Jean Claude God Damn.

[ Laughter ] [ Whooping ] If you touch my moms or anybody else in this house again, I swear to God, you're my father, but I'll kill you... What, do you think you're man enough to take me on, boy?

Papito, shut up, he wasn't talking to you, okay?

But -- but, Mom, I thought... That's right, go back in the kitchen cause you're a pussy!

'I'm gonna kill you, bitch, I'm gonna kill you!'

And she's like, 'Get out of my house, crazy, get out of my house. You're just like your father.'

Come on, let's play something, you wanna play something now?

Come on, some Rock, Paper, Scissors?

Come on, Dad, come on, some Johnny Ride the Pony?

Come on, think of something, Dad.

Stoop ball, some stickball? Come on, Dad!

Come on. Now that I'm successful, now you -- show up.

Where the -- were you before?

All my shows have always been emotionally powerful and sort of therapeutic for me.

Buddy, honey, promise me, promise me, if you're ever in an argument not to lose your -- This is about evolution of masculinity, getting rid of macho toxicity, you know, and that took me years to evolve to that point where backing down from a fight shows more courage.

There is nothing I would love more than to mambo all over your face, but as a wise Puerto Rican- Columbian-Jewish-Incan-Aztec kid once told me, violence is the lowest form of communication.

So I have to decline.

Remembering all the bullying I got, constantly being told, 'Get out of my country, you spic.

Go back to where you came from, spic.'

And then you're like you never had a retort except, you know, ' -- you.'

Because I didn't know that we had built this country and discovered this country and sacrificed for every war.

Once I knew that, I was like, I'm not backing down.

I don't have to resort to vulgarities.

I got facts -- and that's kind of what I wanted to give my son was, sort of, weaponizing our history.

These conquistador, melted all our golden art into coins.

Yo, that's like going into the museum in Florence and seeing the statue of David and going, 'Larry, Larry, look at that statue, it would make a lovely marble kitchen counter.'

[ Laughter ] -We knew that when we closed at The Public the life of this show wasn't done.

-Because King Philip of Spain... -There was still an awful lot of people that wanted to see the show, and the question is, what was the next step going to be?

Was the next step going to be turning it into a television show?

Was it going to be touring it around the country, or could it be that we could move this show to Broadway?

-Getting a show to Broadway is very hard.

It takes a lot of money.

-When you're moving a show to Broadway, you are always facing the reality that four out of every five Broadway shows lose their investment entirely.

Don't get a penny back.

It's a really risky business proposition.

And it was very uncertain at moments, but some people, especially Nelle Nugent, who is his producer on Broadway, that did a fantastic job of marshaling all the money that we needed to do it.

-But then Nelle had to get in line to get a theater.

-The booking that was going into the Studio 54 fell out, and when a little bird whispered, 'That show is canceling,' I called Todd immediately.

He said, 'How did you know?

And, yes, you can have the theater.'

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Yeah, tight on the tape so that it doesn't move.

-Enjoy the show.

♪♪ [ Vocal exercises ] ♪♪ -And now, please welcome, John Leguizamo!

-Break a leg, break a leg!

[ Cheering and applause ] Oh, no, no, no.

No, no, no, no -- settle down!

-The goal always was to get to here, so to be able to reach it feels, you know, fantastic.

So, yo, tonight's lesson is... 'Latin history for Morons,' and that's you.

[ Laughter ] I'm sorry, but it's true.

We went from 400 people to 1,000, and half of them Latin, now the laughs were really long and really big.

-The laughs end up being affirmations.

They end up being, kind of, group affirmations, or group recognitions, or group shared fears.

-And then, they go and do it to us again in the 1930s with the Repatriation Act, where they blame Mexican-Americans for taking jobs during the Depression.

Sound familiar?

So, Herbert Hoover 'repatriates' -- deports -- 500,000 Latin people who were born here.

And those of us that didn't leave were lynched -- about 200 of us.

And now, they're doing it to us again with the Anti-immigration Act, 'SB4: Show Me Your Papers Act.'

Making us so afraid of getting profiled, we have to pretend we can't even speak Spanish.

[ Californian accent] No poder hablar, como poder hablar sin saber hablar, tu hablar, yo no poder hablar.

No. Saber, saber, hablar tu hablar.

No perder. Perder, perder, saber, saber.

[ Laughter and applause ] John, wake up. Wake up! It's Buddy's graduation.

And, John, he says he's got a big surprise for us.

-The play builds to this climactic moment where Buddy, the son, gives a speech about who his hero is.

Um, at first, when the headmaster asked me to take my hero project and turn it into this speech, I -- I wasn't prepared.

But then something in the last few weeks changed for me, because I learned from watching my dad heroically fail.

[ Laughter ] It was always going to be Buddy winning verbally, and understanding that a 'hero' has a lot of connotations.

And it doesn't have to be just winning because you beat somebody up or you defeated somebody.

And the only thing was, who is the hero of the piece?

Because of a situation I had, I was forced to look inside myself, and that's when I saw that, in some ways, I've got lots of heroes in me, because I am Frida Kahlo, and I am Cesar Chavez, and I am Menudo, and I am Sonia Sotomayor -- [ Laughter and applause ] And I am definitely not Ted Cruz.

[ Laughter and applause ] -He had to really deliver the climactic event in Buddy's voice.

Part of what he needed to realize was that he had to step back and give his son center stage.

It was an immensely emotional moment, because it both makes the show work better, but it's also, for me, John recognizing what's important in life, not just in the theater.

-What as one of my fellow classmates once said to me, 'You're the king of nothing.'

But if the Mayans invented the concept of zero, then nothing is not nothing.

And if they can make something out of nothing, then my hero is... my hero is... Me.

[ Laughs nervously ] I think that's the most empowering aspect of the piece, that we're all our own heroes and we can be our own heroes.

Especially with people of color, when we see so few of our heroes celebrated, that we do kind of have to find that within ourselves.

-You made me cry so much, John.

-How's it going?

Its such an honor to meet you. You're a big hero of mine.

You're fantastic.

I feel like a lot of people coming to see the show have been touched.

And people start weeping, you know -- the pain of being a Latin person and having to work so hard to validate yourself in the world and this country, because there's so much negativity toward us.

-It's very powerful, and, you know, there's just so many people need to know... -What's going on, yeah? -And who we are, and why we're worth it and... -Ourselves included, ourselves included.

-For me it was a huge lesson.

I saw it at The Public, and it's a huge lesson of how important we are and that we do matter and we didn't just show up in, like, the '70s.

-It's what theater is for, theater is to light a fire, to inform, to speak about things that people don't look at in a certain way.

I think this is a real in-your-face attempt to say, 'Look, this is how it is from another perspective.'

-I learned that we all have a voice and we need to use it.

-I'm gonna take this and I'm gonna let it inspire me to not only do what he's doing, but to create change that I want to see in the world.

-We're at an inflection moment of history.

It's a moment where either the Latinx population of this country is going to be recognized as not just acceptable members of society, but the core pillar of America.

And for me, the beauty of John's show is, it didn't just talk about why Latinos are central to the United States; it demonstrated by his own example -- being up there on a Broadway stage, saying, 'I am on the biggest stage in the United States, and I belong here by right.'

-It's our pleasure to present the special Tony Award to the force of nature that is John Leguizamo.

-John won a special Tony Award for his body of work.

-It was incredible, man, to have my work acknowledged, and my contributions to theater and playwriting.

I just wanna say, look, I'm an immigrant, and I'm not an animal.

Um, I may smell like one.

[ Cheering and applause ] I think I smell like one tonight because I'm a little nervous, but... -John is rising, and he's rising to a group of people that need his voice, you know -- and I'm not talking about Latin Americans.

I'm talking about people like me need to hear his voice.

White America needs to hear his voice.

He's articulate, he's funny, he's kind, and he's angry -- and he has a right to be angry.

-And it's even more important with Latin people because we are the least represented minority across all media.

That's why theater has always been my sanctuary, because this pervasive exclusion stops there.

And it stops here tonight -- and every night I was on Broadway -- because thousands upon thousands of Latin people showed up and paid unreasonable prices just to be able to see themselves reflected back on one night, they could feel someone was talking about them to them.

[ Cheering and applause ] Esto es para todos ustedes mis hermanos y hermanas.

Nunca retrocedan y nunca acepten menos.

And lets never forget the 1,500 missing Latin immigrant babies in detention.

[ Breaking up ] And 4,645 dead American citizens in Puerto Rico.

Never forget them. Thank you.

[ Cheering and applause ] ♪♪ I find that the stage and theater is an incredibly inspiring space.

If you see a great Broadway show, it stays with you for the rest of your life as if it was a personal experience of your own, not like movies where it's always foggy and more dreamlike and it's a little abstract and distant.

When you see a play that you rock with, it's like you had that experience yourself, and it moves you in a different way.

It's like what for me would be the equivalent of church for somebody else.

It feels like church.

And 'Latin History for Morons' especially felt like church, because people were, I mean, they screamed to their feet at the end because they felt the journey, they felt we went places, they felt we traveled through time and got reparations in some kind of way.

Why is all our art called folk art, and then all the European art is called 'fine art,' and then 'modern art' is just our folk art gentrified!

[ Cheering and applause ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Crew members cheering ] -Nicely done.

-Oh, my God!

-That was hot dude.

-Mm! Mm-mm-mm!

I made it.

Jesus Christ.

God help me.

Oh lord. Oh Jesus.

-El guardo!

El guardo.

♪♪ Let me help you with that. No, I don't like it like that.

Let me help you with that. I like that.

-To find out more about this and other 'Great Performances' programs, visit pbs.org/greatperformances, find us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

♪♪ ♪♪ -Over, get me in.

Hurry up, hurry up.

-Get in there, get in there. -Okay, beautiful.

-All right, good, good.

-All right, that was a good one, that was a good groupie.

Thank you.

Hey, hey. I walk like a New Yorker.

♪♪ [ Cheering and applause ] Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

♪♪