What's it about?
Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is a one-man show that consists of spoken word, rap, Latin instrumentals and live vocal looping that tells the story of Brian Quijada, a Chicago-born son to immigrant parents trying to find his place in America.
What'd I experience?
"Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?" This song from Hamilton: The Musical is the last song that played on my Spotify before Where Did We Sit On The Bus? started. It ended up working perfectly with the tone of Brian Quijada's piece and I played it on repeat for hours after.
If I didn't Google Maps the Ensemble Studio Theatre, I would have easily missed it - it's not easy to spot. It's also a solid sixteen minute walk away from the closest train station which was NOT FUN. As soon as I walk into the theatre, I noticed the lack of set - something that always grabs my attention right away. But then I notice the music station set up stage left. That is the first thing Brian uses when he walks on stage and from that point on, I was hooked. This piece is a narration of a boy growing up and questioning his history, his culture and his place in America. A place where dreams are limitless and possibilites are seemingly available to anyone. But the message that Brian so beautifully conveys is that if you don't understand who you are, where you come from and who you want to be, it is tough to make it and I connect to that on every level.
Every moment that Brian spends creating music and song on the sound system - controlling the looping on what looks like an app on an iPhone that he carries either in his hand or in his front jean pocket - inspires me. It reminds me of how much theatre has grown. I feel honored to live in a time right now where people of all cultures, colors and with so many diverse stories can take center stage.
I can relate to Brian's story. I was born into a non-American family who came to America looking for "The American Dream" and hopes of a bright and fulfilling future for their children. I grew up aspiring to be an actor and having people constantly tell me that it was not a real job and would never work. Much like Brian's parents who told him "You need to go to college. Become a doctor or a lawyer. You would look so handsome in a suit", there is nothing more heartbreaking than being a child and dreaming big and being told that your dreams won't amount to anything. Those moments when Brian talks about performing and not having the support of his family made me cry because I know that struggle myself but I know that there are so many other artists out there, fighting for their dream, fighting to pay their bills just to be able to do what they love. "We are controlled by the media, fear and money." This line was part of Brian's open mic poem and it really resonated with me because it's so honest and so relevant. It's been a full day since the show and I still haven't been able to stop thinking about that one line.
I left the theatre feeling so lucky. Lucky to have witnessed a man tell a story that as a woman of color, I can relate to. I can relate to not really knowing my history except for what is in the textbooks. I can relate to feeling like a traitor to my people when I find a friend who doesn't look like me. I can relate to feeling like my dreams are not worth fighting for because my family and even society tells me it isn't. I feel lucky to be have been able to sit in the dark theatre for an hour and twenty minutes and listen to Brian's story and I feel proud to see that theatre has opened its door to diversity. To allow people like Brian to not only tell his story, in the creative and engaging way that he does but, to allow him to take center stage and do it by himself.
Right after leaving the theatre, I couldn't shake the question that Brian is addressing in the title of his production. Where was the Latin community during Rosa Parks' time on the bus? Where would they have sat and why is their story never talked about in history classes? I am on a new mission to learn the history of our country, beyond the white and the black umbrella that we regularly hear about. Accepting diversity is all about the willingness to open your mind and heart to the experiences of everyone unlike yourself.