In the early 1990s, actor and comedian John Leguizamo was on a mission. The Bronx, N.Y., native wanted to showcase Latino culture, while at the same time subversively satirizing the stereotypical ways Latinos were portrayed in American popular culture. Leguizamo’s early forays into television, via specials and series like “Mambo Mouth” and “Spic-O-Rama,” tackled the images typically seen of Latino Americans. Today, the Ride Along star acknowledges that the culture has shifted some since he began his career.
“Things have changed since I did ‘Mambo Mouth,'” he says. “When I did ‘Mambo Mouth,’ there weren’t a lot of Latin people in the media — except in the news; always in the news; and that’s not the place that I wanted to see us. So I wrote ‘Mambo Mouth’ as sort of an antidote to that situation.”
Since the late 1990s, the Latin experience has been a much more mainstreamed part of popular culture. Pop superstars like Jennifer Lopez and Shakira have racked up hits; sitcom star and talk show host George Lopez is a household name; and awareness of Latino culture has spread to small town America. Leguizamo saw the 2014 Academy Awards as evidence that things have improved.
“Things have changed. A Latin man finally won an Oscar as director: Alfonso Cuarón. And those Latin kids that wrote the music for Frozen, you had that,” Leguizamo observed. “And you’ve got a lot of great talent out there.”
Latino portrayals in the media is obviously a subject that he’s passionate about, stating, “I got lots more numbers.” Leguizamo wants everyone to recognize that there is still much work to be done. “Things could be a lot better,” he explained. “We’re 20 percent of the population, but only 3.8 percent in the media and movies — positive media. And even two percent of that is kind of negative. So we’ve made progress, but it’s still not progress that I’m really happy with.”