So John Leguízamo isn’t really Puerto Rican. Big ups to Gonzalo Aburto for finally getting this on record but what is the proverbial takeaway?
I remember asking his mom, who is a really cool lady, about this specific question about 10 years ago and she said something about his great-great-great-grandmother being Boricua. I was of course skeptical, especially when estimates of the percentage of his Puerto Rican DNA that appeared in his own promotional materials varied over the years. But at the same time, I thought, damn, he really does want to be one of us.
I met John almost 20 years ago through a guy named Joe Vasquez, a South Bronx/El Barrio filmmaker who was as Puerto Rican as they get. On Saturdays we played ball Downtown and all the trash talk came from the Leggs-man. When John played Benny Blanco from the Bronx in Carlito’s Way, he certainly seemed more Puerto Rican than Al Pacino. His entire wise-cracking, b-boy obsessed, sneakers hanging from the telephone pole act carried an air of undeniable authenticity.
In a time when so many Latin Americans living in New York look down their noses at us and go out of their way to insist that they are not Puerto Rican, Leguízamo’s claim, even if stretching reality, is a refreshing expression of class solidarity. I mean, you’re going to give up all that Latin American literature boom/New El Museo del Barrio curating respectability to insist that you’re one of us? I even know some Puerto Ricans who insist they are not Puerto Rican.
We’ve had many honorary Boricuas in this town, there’s ample precedent for that. Much of the core leadership of the Young Lords were half-something else or full-on African-American. Rubén Blades appears to many of us to be the step-nephew of Cheo Feliciano or Tité Curet Alonso. For a minute, through her quickie with Jellybean Benítez, those early Madonna singles made her freestyle fresh.
I guess there is a difference between actually saying you’re Puerto Rican (when you might not be) and just claiming to be “honorary,” like say, Larry Harlow, or Joe Bataan. But I think Johnny says he is not just to maintain his considerably large fan base, but because (at the end of the day?) he’s feeling it. Feeling all that subway stink and attitude and sick of being locked down and profiled that tainted his Jackson Heights youth (if not his Downtown present), the same disfiguring scar that gave him, as a professional actor, the choice of being a klown, a kop, or a krook.
So let him march in peace. No hay mal que por bien no venga. Even Fat Joe isn’t fat anymore.