Story-Collecting Storefront in Back of the Yards
Vintage Hudson parked outside 47th Street storefronts in Back of the Yards (Photo: The Gate/Mariah Owens)
CHICAGO, IL – “Chicago is a city where Mexicans are everywhere, we’ve been here and contributed so much to this city, but you really wouldn’t know it by looking at mainstream media or textbooks,” says Ricardo Gamboa, activist, director and playwright behind Meet Juan(ito) Doe, a play about Chicago’s Mexican-American and immigrant community.
The lack of representation of Chicago’s Mexican-Americans and immigrants was the impetus behind Gamboa’s Meet Juan(ito) Doe, a collaboration with the Free Street Theater with support from the Joyce Foundation and NEA. “Free Street believes in the power of letting people share their story. Ricardo’s project is emblematic of the important work we’ve been doing in the city for decades,” says Free Street Artistic Director Coya Paz.
Indeed, Gamboa’s Meet Juan(ito) Doe isn’t your traditional narrative play. Instead, the play will be authored by an ensemble of Chicago Mexican-American writer-performers and will based on stories they collect from the city’s Mexican-descended residents. To help with the herculean task, Gamboa decided to open a storefront in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. “Mexican immigrants made this country home. I wanted creative place-making to be part of our process. Back of the Yards is awesome, has rich history of brown folk thriving and surviving, and the neighborhood is often overlooked. I thought it’d be a great place to build a home.”
The Meet Juan(ito) Doe “Storyfront” was formerly the office of electronic repairman and Mexican immigrant, the late Jose Guerra. “He came to Chicago from Mexico with nothing. He worked to be able to buy this building, had a factory job and taught himself how to do electronic repairs. Between that, he had a wife, raised three daughters and a grandson, loved, lived and made his community better,” says Gamboa. “These are the kind of stories we’re interested in capturing here, the stories of everyday people who aren’t faceless nobodies, but really everyday heroes.”
The storyfront will be open to the public May 7th and individuals and families wishing to share their story can arrange an appointment to do so in Back of the Yards. Additionally, the storyfront will host story circles, workshops, cultural and educational programming including acting classes, “know-your-rights” workshops, drag lotería and karaoke nights. You can learn more about this project at Free Street Theater’s website,www.freestreet.org, or receive more detailed updates at Meet Juan(ito) Doe’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Meet-Juan-ito-Doe-1306711839366277.
About Free Street
Founded in 1969, Free Street Theater has been committed to defying Chicago’s racial and economic segregation by creating original performance by, for, and with a wide range of participants; to challenging ideas of where theater belongs and who belongs in a theater; and to using theater to ask questions, prompt dialogue, and build community.
About Ricardo Gamboa
Ricardo Gamboa an award-winning artist and activist and academic working in his native Chicago and New York City. In New York City, he is an alumni of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics’ EmergeNYC program, a member of the NY Neo-Futurists, and Critical Collaborations Fellow at New York University. In Chicago, he is a member of Free Street Theater and the Southside Ignoramus Quartet, founding adult partner of the Young Fugitives, a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, and creator and a host of the live news show and podcast The Hoodoisie. He is the recipient of a MacArthur International Connections Award and Joyce Award, amongst others. His current projects include the web-series BRUJOS and the play MEET JUAN(ITO) DOE. He is also working on the film adaptation of his play THE REAL LIFE ADVENTURES OF JIMMY DE LAS ROSAS, a finalist for Sundance’s Latino Filmmaker Fellowship. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree at New York University’s renowned American Studies program. He has worked with over 5,000 young people in the United States and Latin America.