El Espace: John Leguizamo Has Harsh Words for Us

El Espace

John Leguizamo Has Harsh Words for Us

This week in El Espace: J. Lo, the midterms, punk rock and brown ballet shoes.

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In his new Netflix special, “Latin History for Morons,” John Leguizamo jumps from genocide to cultural apartheid, dances merengue and dresses like Frida Kahlo.CreditCreditNetflix
Concepción de León

By Concepción de León

El Espace is a column dedicated to news and culture relevant to Latinx communities. Expect politics, arts, analysis, personal essays and more. ¿Lo mejor? It’ll be in Spanish and English, so you can forward it to your tía, your primo Lalo or anyone else (read: everyone).

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Celebrity activists Rosario Dawson, Zoe Saldana, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Gina Rodriguez marched in an election rally in Miami on November 4, 2018.CreditGaston De Cardenas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WE’RE STILL TALKING ABOUT THE ELECTIONS

Early indicators show that voting in the midterms was up among women, Latinos and young people. (“Donde votar” was Google’s top search term on Election Day morning.) And a record-breaking number of women, people of color and young people were elected. But midterm madness isn’t over; as of this morning, Florida and Georgia are still counting votes and many municipalities are wrestling with the fact that election centers were overcrowded or had voting machines that didn’t work. (At my polling location in Queens, I saw one of the volunteers hurriedly help a woman fill out a provisional ballot, then fold it and toss it onto an increasingly unwieldy pile.)

The Democrats won back a majority in the House and Republicans maintained control of the Senate, gaining a few more seats. If you’re wondering, “What does it all mean?” we’ve got you.

Also in politics, a bit of good news for “Dreamers”: On Thursday, a federal appeals court ordered that DACA recipients would remain protected from deportation while legal challenges to the Trump administration’s attempts to end the program are pending in several states.

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John Leguizamo said he created “Latin History for Morons” for “teenagers of all walks of life. Black, white, Latinx, Asian — but especially Latinx teenagers who don’t see themselves represented anywhere.”CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

A CHAT CON EL PROFESOR

In news unrelated to midterms: John Leguizamo’s “Latin History for Morons” is now streaming on Netflix following a successful run in 2017 in New York at the Public Theater and on Broadway. I saw the play in April of last year, right before my first day at The Times, and the version on Netflix is even sharper and more incisive than I remember, showcasing a type of harsh, honest humor that’s distinctly Latinx.

In the show, Leguizamo takes on the role of a professor attempting to find a Latinx hero for his son to research for a middle school project. “That’s how it happened in real life,” he said in a phone call this week. “My son needed a historical hero for a school project, and there weren’t any in his textbook. So I started reading, doing research.”

The history lesson that ensues is frenetic and animated, with Leguizamo jumping from Christopher Columbus’s decimation of the Taíno people in the Caribbean to the present “age of Pitbull,” all while doing impressions, cursing in Spanish and dancing merengue.

Growing up in Queens, Leguizamo, who is half Colombian and half Puerto Rican, only learned about Latinx history “through osmosis,” he said. “Hanging out, I saw how brilliant and how funny and how sharp and how savvy our people were, but I wasn’t learning it in school. I was in public school, and it wasn’t in the textbooks.”

So as part of the show’s rollout, Leguizamo released a syllabus on Twitter, recommending more than 60 books on Latinx history and social justice, including Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America,” Charles Mann’s “1491” and Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” — his favorites.

“They state our powers and our contributions,” Leguizamo said of these books. “How much was destroyed and how much has been exploited and how with the incredible amount of resources and power we have, why are we powerless?”

He also talked scathingly about underrepresentation of Latinx people in the media. “We’re less than 3 percent of the faces in front of the camera,” Leguizamo said. “We’re 35 percent of the population of New York City. White people are 35 percent of the population of New York City. We’re equal. And yet The New York Times rarely, if ever, has positive, Latin aspirational stories in any section. And that, I find, a cultural apartheid.” (Latinos make up 29 percent of New York City’s population, while non-Hispanic whites make up 32 percent.)

What’s next? Maybe he’ll write a book of his own. “That’ll be my life’s work,” he said.

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The queen!CreditNatalia Mantini for The New York Times

JENNIFER LOPEZ LEVELS UP

Jennifer Lopez (the queen of romantic comedies; fight me!) talked to The Times ahead of her upcoming film, “Second Act,” which is out Dec. 21. 

I stan for Lopez as an actress: “The Wedding Planner,” the 2001 rom-com which features Lopez as, you know, a wedding planner, was my favorite movie until “Maid in Manhattan” (Lopez, a hotel maid, becomes Lopez, a politician’s love interest) came out in 2002. Suffice to say, I will be seeing “Second Act” on opening day.

In the profile, Lopez talks about pushing herself in her career, going to therapy and trying to teach her daughter self-love and that “she don’t need no fairy tale.” There are also several paragraphs of Alex Rodriguez hyping her up, which gave me heart-eye emoji vibes.

But one of her comments gave me pause. In “Second Act,” Lopez plays Maya de la Vargas, a 40-something assistant manager at a big box store in Queens who has bigger dreams. Our reporter wrote that the movie “glosses over the institutional and social hurdles that a character like Maya might face,” adding:

To Lopez, that is another instance where mind-over-matter determination should prevail. She was a Puerto Rican from the middle-class Bronx with aspirations far beyond that, and a tenacity that made it happen. “There is racism. There is sexism. There is ageism. There is all of this and you know what, that’s still not going to stop me,” she said. “I believe that 100 percent, to the bottom of my soul.”

So essentially, Lopez doesn’t see any flaw in the movie’s premise, because she subscribes to the central message: Anything can be accomplished with sheer force.

I get it: I’m the first of my American raised primos and siblings to go to college and, to their great annoyance, this means I’m the standard to which they’re frequently held. My relative success is used as a counterexample for anyone else’s perceived failures, the idea being: If Concepción did it, why can’t they? It’s a symptom of a mind-set called survivorship bias, whereby the survivors (i.e., the people who have “made it”) are viewed as the rule rather than the exception, a worldview that ignores the substantially greater numbers of people who aren't able to overcome limiting circumstances. It places the burden of success on the individual without recognizing, let alone tackling, the systemic barriers that hold marginalized people back, according to many, many studies and reports. It’s fine to gloss over inequality in romantic comedies, (O.K., maybe not fine but personally, I don’t mind two hours of optimistic escapism). But in real life, nuance matters.

The New Punks of Los Angeles

A photo-essay on the Latinx punk scene on the outskirts of Los Angeles documents some of this generation’s thrashing teenagers.

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Punk rock will never die.CreditDaniel Jack Lyons for The New York Times

67,000 Doctors Say You Should Stop Spanking Your Kids

Time to retire the chancla? “One of the most important relationships we all have is the relationship between ourselves and our parents, and it makes sense to eliminate or limit fear and violence in that loving relationship,” said one of the authors of a recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In This Week’s Installment of “Things That Should’ve Happened Sooner”

A British supplier of ballet shoes is now making shoes for brown people. It only took 200 years! Ballerinas of color have long been using makeup or paint to get their traditionally pink shoes to match their complexion, but now they can just buy shoes that do the work instead.

Opinion: I Have a Green Card Now. But Am I Welcome?

“I feel exactly like I felt in my first days in this country in 1999 — different, unwanted,” writes the poet Javier Zamora.

I just discovered this Eddie Cepeda column in Remezcla where he covers the history of reggaeton, and I’m obsessed. In particular, Cepeda’s profile of Dominican reggaeton producers Luny Tunes brought me right back to 2004, dancing to reggaeton in my room while my friends were out at actual parties because Papi wouldn’t let me go out. (Sigh.)


At me with your favorite throwbacks @bycdl, and let me know if you’d subscribe to this as a newsletter: concepcion.deleon@nytimes.com

Concepción de León is the digital staff writer for the Books Desk. She covers book news, writes the weekly Newsbook column and contributes to the Travel section, suggesting books from around the world. She previously worked for Glamour magazine.

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