John Leguizamo offers up a simple inspiration for his latest series.
“I wanted to do a show where people watch this and say, ‘I wanna be Latino!’ or ‘Damn, too bad I’m not Latino!’”
Leguizamo, the acclaimed actor, comedian, producer and activist, takes viewers on a journey as the host of “Leguizamo Does America,” a six-part docuseries premiering Sunday on MSNBC and streaming on Peacock. Each episode focuses on a different city — Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C. — and its unique Latino heritage, as Leguizamo explores its culture, people and monuments and its food and restaurants. One episode focuses on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
Leguizamo takes viewers from sound stages in Hollywood to a salsa festival in New York’s Spanish Harlem and a sacred Indigenous ceremony in Puerto Rico — all while exploring Latino contributions to American life.
“Latinx history is American history,” Leguizamo says in one of the episodes, noting that Latinos have played critical roles, from the Revolutionary War to the birth of hip-hop.
“Leguizamo Does America” can be viewed as part of the emerging trend of celebrity travel shows, such as “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” (CNN) and “Down to Earth with Zac Efron” (Netflix). Leguizamo’s show covers a lot of ground, from the origins of New York’s famous bodegas, or corner shops, to the resident Latina conductor at the Los Angeles Opera. It features appearances by well-known actors like George Lopez, Gina Torres, Diane Guerrero and Michael Peña — who takes Leguizamo to his family’s famed domino-playing gatherings in Chicago — as well as notable figures like Broadway director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo, Voto Latino’s María Teresa Kumar and fashion designer Raul Lopez.
But “Leguizamo Does America” doesn’t shy from addressing issues roiling the Latino community. In New York, Leguizamo hosts a dinner party, and, alongside comedian and actor Aida Rodriguez and others, he brings up the controversy over the word “Latinx,” a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina — and why it’s so polarizing to some.
In Los Angeles, Leguizamo talks about the challenge of creating Latino-themed stories with television producer Gloria Calderón Kellett. Because of Latinos’ diversity and complexity, “we’re a hard audience, because there’s been such a starvation for representation that when one thing exists — it better represents all of us,” she says.
In Miami, actor and playwright Carmen Pelaez explains how immigration continues to transform the politics of her hometown. “Miami is the shore where the people of every failed government of Latin America land. … You know what the government is currently failing in Latin America from the accent you hear on the street in Miami.” (NBC)