John Leguizamo Discusses Why He Is Bringing Latino History to PBS with ‘American Historia’ This Fall
May 18, 2023
The history of Latinos in the Americas, going back 500 years and incorporating some of the world’s great civilizations, is coming to PBS this fall via "VOCES American Historia: The Untold History of Latinos," a three-part series co-created by John Leguizamo and director and producer Ben DeJesus.
In a witty and inspiring conversation with Patricia Harrison, the president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Leguizamo, the Tony-winning actor, writer, comedian, and producer, spoke about the importance of the series and why he wanted it to air on PBS. The conversation was held before an audience of more than 1,300 people at the PBS Annual Meeting in San Diego earlier this week.
“Here we are in the 21st century, and my son can’t see himself in history textbooks. We’re not anywhere in history textbooks, and we helped build America,” Leguizamo told Harrison. “And yet here we are, 20% of the U.S. population, 30% of the U.S. box office, $4 billion in streaming in America alone.”
Leguizamo quoted the Greek philosopher Plato: “He who controls the storytelling controls society” as his motivation for creating "American Historia" and his earlier one-man Broadway show "Latin History for Morons." “We need to have control over our storytelling, and it’s my duty to put our stories out there and to create a place for those stories, so they can be the seeds where other people can find stories within these histories.”
Harrison said the exploration of Latin history is long overdue. “For too long, the history of Latinos and their contributions to this country were not told. Instead, generations were defined by harmful stereotypes,” she said. “Public media is working with many partners to change this false narrative. We are retrieving lost history and promoting stories that advance mutual respect.”
She said that stories such as "American Historia" take us “on a journey to discover the real history of Latinos, their courage and sacrifice which have shaped our shared American story.”
In addition to airing on PBS and streaming on PBS.org and the PBS app, "American Historia" will live on as an educational resource available to millions of educators and students through PBS LearningMedia.
The series is part of a rich body of Leguizamo’s work in public media. Born in Colombia, he grew up in Queens, NY, where he recalled that PBS shows like "Zoom" and "Sesame Street" were the only places he saw Latin people on television, giving him the first inkling that he could be on television, too. “That’s why PBS means everything to me,” he said.
Later, Leguizamo appeared on the PBS series "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.," which traced his family history back 500 years on both sides, a conquistador on one side and Indigenous people on the other. “That gives you power. That feeds you,” he said.
Despite deep divisions in the U.S., Leguizamo said he believes America is changing for the better and points to more diversity -- in television, in the movies, in advertising and children’s picture books – as hopeful signs.
“It’s the divided states of America. How do we continue and move forward as a democracy? We need to embrace each other. We need to forgive our differences; we need to celebrate each other’s differences. We’re a better country when we’re all included. America was made by diverse people, and it needs to celebrate that. And we work better when we're all together.”
“American Historia” is produced by The WNET Group, Latino Public Broadcasting and NGL Collective, with funding from ITVS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
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