In an often funny, moving and profanity-laced keynote address this week, actor, playwright and memoirist John Leguizamo denounced the entertainment industry’s ghetto attitude toward Latino history, people and artists.
“One out of every six Americans is Latin – why aren’t we represented on TV accordingly? Why is Hollywood ignoring us? Where is our Driving Miss Daisy?” Leguizamo (Bloodline, Ice Age franchise, Carlito’s Way) wondered aloud Monday during what was billed as the First Immigration Arts Summit. “That’s the reason I started writing one-man shows – so I wouldn’t have to play hoodlums all the time,” he continued, using the term “Latinx” – pronounced latin-ex – as a gender-neutral signifier.
“And now that I don’t have any relatives left to piss off,” he continued, “I have a new show, called Latin History For Morons. And I’m one of the morons, because it took me years to understand Latin history and the huge contributions and accomplishments of Latinx people. These stories were never in our textbooks. They built a wall around our history…The Latin people I grew up with are funny, complicated, intellectual. But I never see the Hispanic characters in movies, television and textbooks portrayed that way. I want to see those qualities reflected.”
The two-day summit concluded last night with the participants agreeing to formally organize as the Immigrant Arts Coalition, a multicultural coalition of local arts organizations and individuals.
“We are a network of multi-disciplinary arts organizations and individual artists who recognize that American culture has historically attracted and absorbed arts from abroad, as we are a country of immigrants, most of whom come to this country of their own free will to flee adversity and injustice,” the group said, announcing the formation of the group.
Hosted by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan, the confab brought together representatives from theater companies and cultural organizations including the Pan Asian Repertory; Repertorio Español; Irish Repertory Theatre; the Kairos Italy Theater; the Irish Arts Center; National Asian Artists Project; and the Turkish American Repertory Theatre, El Museo del Barrio; the Museum at Eldridge Street; Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in the USA, the Museum of Jewish Heritage; and the Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance.
‘The Latin people I grew up with are funny, complicated, intellectual. But I never see the Hispanic characters in movies, television and textbooks portrayed that way.’ – John Leguizamo
“We are willing to share with our distinct audiences the countless riches and educational value of the arts from different countries and cultures,” the statement continued, “not to mention a variety of backgrounds, and to forge a larger mandate for New York culture that is inclusive and based on mutual respect.”
The network will also affiliate with arts and immigrant advocacy organizations including New York Foundation for the Arts, the NYC Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians.
The Summit concluded Tuesday night with an outdoor concert at Robert F. Wagner Park that featured the pop and R&B recording artist Kimberley Locke performing Irving Berlin’s musical adaptation of Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty sonnet “The New Colossus.” It also included the presentation of Folksbiene’s revival of its 1984 musical history of Jewish immigration, Amerike — The Golden Land, running at the Museum through August 20.