Why John Leguizamo Inspires Me

I’m so inspired by John Leguizamo now–the Latino actor and producer.

In a recent New York Times article he wrote about how the media, history books, and ordinary people stigmatize Latino Americans and ignore their achievements.

This sets up his fellow Latinos to internalize that they can’t accomplish much so why bother trying.

This is a classic set-up that disenfranchises everyone in America. It’s also been the playbook for how people with mental health conditions have been treated.

Leguizamo inspires me to champion mental health peers whose contributions to society have also been ignored. He inspires me in my own work as an Advocate to champion people who for so long had no voice and no say in how they lived their lives.

The time has come to see beyond “difference” and stop competing with each other to take over even bigger slices of the American pie. The pie is big enough for everyone to have an equal slice.

No one needs to be greedy now and eat the whole thing when others are starving–starving to be accorded the dignity and compassion that those in power denied them historically.

I was the first person circa a year ago to make the analogy of the pie and power and how it relates to people with mental health challenges.

We need to rise up and shout:

“Oh really now? I’m not buying what you’re selling.”

The time has come to stop being invisible–stop being invisible to ourselves and stop being invisible to others.

Every day I’m fortunate to meet and interact with people who tell me their diagnosis.

It’s no longer prudent to live in hiding; denying the truth.

I want the day to come when it’s unthinkable that hate exists towards people who are deemed different–simply because it doesn’t exist.

We’re not there yet, as evidenced in how we voted into the highest office of President a guy who called Latinos rapists, murderers, and drug dealers.

If he can get away with hating people who hide in plain sight; who look a certain way–and become a leader of the free world–it’s a sad day for everyone branded with whatever stigmata befalls us, whether it’s visible on our faces or tucked into our minds where no one else can see.

The time has come to stand up and say:

“I have SZ (or BP or DP or whatever) and I’m not going away. You stigmatize me at your own peril.”

I have no doubt that people deserve to become millionaires and even billionaires through their own hard work.

What I doubt is that treating people who look different from you with contempt is the way to go. I doubt that it’s right that too many people are homeless, or poor and go hungry, or are denied the right to have universal public healthcare or at least low-cost healthcare.

As far as the pie goes, I can’t bake and don’t care to eat the [unhealthy] pie. I’d rather have a slice of pizza and call it a day.

Here’s the real deal: I was diagnosed with SZ when I was 22. I was and still am a quirky, creative artist. I have no use for apple pies. As an author, I don’t trade in stereotypes. As a human being, I abhor the hating and stereotyping and judging that goes on.

I want to act for mental health peers like John Leguizamo acts for Latinos.

In 1990 I defied the low expectations other people [and mental health staff] had for those of us diagnosed with SZ and other mental health conditions.

Now it’s your turn. I dare you to defy the limits others impose on you. I dare you to think for yourself about how to treat people. I dare you to live out loud.

I dare you to stop hiding. Stop feeling guilty and ashamed that you have a diagnosis.

Start to believe you’re a person of worth simply because you’re alive not because you’ve achieved great things.

I dare you to speak out.

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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