HBO's new documentary "The Latin Explosion," which premieres tonight at 9 p.m., explores the cultural and artistic side of the Latino move toward the mainstream in American society, and narrator John Leguizamo has had a unique vantage on that change over the decades. He just wishes there were some better options for Latinos in the presidential race.
In pop culture in general, not just in music, Latin representation has had an interesting journey. What's your own personal view of that been?
We've always been the flavor for a certain amount of time and then faded out or disappeared and then came back into prominence and then disappeared again. But I guess ever since the '70s it's been a strong influence. We helped birth hip-hop — Latin people I mean. We had a hand in hip-hop, we had a hand in graffiti. And then playwrights like myself in the '90s and now filmmakers, you've got so many people. You've got Pitbull doing that amalgam of hip-hop and dance music. And in athletics, forget it, baseball is our thing. We're even breaking into basketball now with Lopez and all the other cats.
Do you think any of that has to do with the shifting population numbers?
I think it's not just the change in numbers, because we've always been a pretty big contingent here, but definitely we've had a chance to move up into the power positions where the decision-making is happening. That's the big change. We're finally being allowed to crack through those glass ceilings and take the reins. And that's been the big change. We're over a trillion dollars of buying power just in America, forget about Latin America. So that's been huge. And definitely you have a lot more voters. I mean, we have the first two Latin candidates, even though they're on the wrong side. (laughs)
Cruz, though, feels like the least Latin Latin candidate you could imagine.
He's half-Latin, but he's full self-hating. (laughs)
I find people getting nervous about a Latin majority hilarious, honestly.
The rest of America, all the big cities have had a Latin presence forever, you know? L.A., Cleveland, New York, Florida. It's the places that did not have a huge Latin influx, they're the ones that are uncomfortable with a Latin presence. But Texas has always been Latin. We've actually been here before everybody else came here. Texas was Mexico, California was Mexico — New Mexico was Mexico! And all those cities have our names. Colorado means red in Spanish because of the red clay, Arizona means dry land, California means temperate zone, Florida means flowery state.
What of what's going on today as far as the Latin explosion excites you the most?
I mean, you have Lin Manuel doing the first hip-hop musical, that's a new birth right now. And you'll see millions of those shows coming up next. You have these incredible auteurs, the kinds you haven't seen since the '70s — Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Inarritu. You have Junot Diaz, a great, great novelist, a Pulitzer winner. You have so much creativity. We're finally given a chance to express ourselves.
You also just released your first graphic novel, "Ghetto Klown."
Yeah, my graphic novel just dropped, and it's based on my one-man show "Ghetto Klown." I found these artists in Brooklyn. There's a community of illustrators, and I brought them my play and they fell in love with it. And I loved their drawing. It was a love-fest. It's a pretty powerful piece — very raw, very honest. My one-man shows are very adaptable to graphic novels because the dialogue is so succinct, each line is kind of like a haiku of experience.
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