John Leguizamo knows that achieving cultural and racial harmony in the U.S. is a two-way street.
The 51-year-old actor spoke about how unfair it is to expect the Latino and black communities to assimilate into white culture despite not often receiving the same courtesy in return in a recent video interview with Big Think.
“As a Latin person ― minorities, black people have to do it as well ― we have to immerse ourselves in white culture and learn about white culture,” Leguizamo said in the video, posted Saturday. “It’s all we were taught in school and in movies. And so we learn, but it’s not reciprocal, you know? It’s not a reciprocal thing that happens that white culture wants to learn about Latin culture or black culture.”
Leguizamo also described how often minorities feel the need to “appear predominantly white” by speaking a certain way when in predominantly white spaces.
“I’m talking to you with my whiter side of myself more,” he said to the interviewer who is off-camera. “And then when I’m with my friends from high school and we’re all like Latin... we’ll go back to the lingo that we used, like a little more street, a lot more [ebonic], a lot more Latin words because we know we understand each other.”
The actor said when he first started in Hollywood he felt a greater need to “pass” as white to get certain roles. But after realizing he would still be typecast, he decided to write and perform his own one-man shows based on his life and community.
Last August, Leguizamo also broke down how Latino stories and contributions are missing from U.S. history courses, which can often times make some Latinos feel invisible.
“We’re not taught anything that we contributed to this country and we’ve been around for 500 years,” he told HuffPost Live. “Just imagine, you’re a white kid and all of a sudden everybody’s Latin and everything they’re teaching you is Latin and you don’t hear anything about yourself or about your contributions... How would you feel? How would you think of your future? How would you think of your participation in American culture?”
Watch the actor’s full interview with Big Think in the video above.