When I first learned that Colombian-Puerto Rican actor and comedian, John Leguizamo was starring in his own one-man show, “Latin History for Morons,” a performance dedicated to the oppression of Indigenous and African slaves in Latin America done by the Spanish conquistadors – I knew I had to see it. The Broadway show (which runs now through February 25th only) literally feels like an in-depth, comical but accurate, Latin history class. In other words, Leguizamo touches on everything you didn’t actually get to learn in history class growing up.
The show though hilarious, gets at something deep: the injustice of Latin history. It touches on the injustice of Spanish conquistadors and their impact on the indigenous communities that existed before colonization, as well as the African slaves that were brought over to work the lands. But like many folks who have seen the show, one of the things that stood out to me the most, was the insanely long list of Latin History book references Leguizamo constantly makes. He mentions quite a collection throughout that performance that are definitely worth adding to your own reading list. Here’s a look at a few Latin history books we should all make time to read!
A People’s History of The United States by Howard Zinn:
If you’re going to read any history book this year – read this one. This classic national bestseller is a good text to start with, as it provides a pretty thorough and balanced account of American history, that’s told from the side of the oppressor. It’s nothing like the vague history books you read in high school – that’s for sure!
The Woman In Battle: The Civil War Narrative of Loreta Velazque, Cuban Woman & Confederate Soldier by Loreta Janeta Velazquez:
Before watching Latin History for Morons, I had no idea that a Cuban woman fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy because again, it’s not something you typically learn in school. The autobiography tells the story of a Cubana who migrated to New Orleans in 1850s to elope with her American lover. She cross-dressed to fight in the war, organized an Arkansas regiment, participated in historic battles, and eventually became a double agent spy.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann:
This book explores the Americas and what it was like before colonization and before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. It touches on the reality of the Aztec capital and the indigenous communities, versus the myths we’ve been conditioned to believe. A powerful and fascinating read indeed.
The History of Latin America: Collision of Cultures by Marshall C. Eakin:
This historical narrative explores and surveys five centuries of Latin American history starting with the Americas before Columbus to the wars for independence that took place in the early 19th century. It also touches on the search for true identity in Latino America over the past century and how collision of people and culture plays such a strong role in all of this.
Ancient Civilizations of the Americas by Anthony Mason:
This book explores the ancient civilizations of the Americas that started from natives from Asia to Alaska who migrated more than 13,000 years ago to the west. It traces the Mayan and Aztec empires of central and South America, and analyzes how organized and efficient their communities were before the Spanish conquistadors conquered in the 16th century.
Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil by James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz:
This history book explores and examines the period between the European conquest and Latin American independence. In this case specifically Brazil between 1492 to 1825.
Santeria: The Religion by Migene Gonzalez Wippler:
This fascinating book explores the Yoruba people of West Africa who were brought to Cuba to work as slaves, along with the faith they tried to preserve for centuries, who’s existing faith is now known today as Santeria, a mix of the original beliefs blended with Catholicism.
Cuentos: Stories by Latinas by Alma Gomez, Cherrie Moraga, and Mariana Romo-Carmona:
This 1983 read is the first collection of short fiction stories written and edited by Latinas from both the US. and Latin America. The book includes selections in both Spanish and English and touches on the power of Latino resistance.
War Cry On A Prayer Feather by Nancy Wood:
This text was published back in 1979 and includes fascinating poems and prose inspired by the indigenous communities of the Americas.
Growing up Chicana/O: An Anthology by Tiffany Ana Lopez:
This collection of short stories was written by twenty Mexican Americans and explores their experiences navigating life in the U.S. as Chicanos.