I walked into the small storefront turned “story front,” and a sense of wonder immediately washed over me. Shopping carts, bikes, cortinas, altares, and chile jalapeño cans doubling as flower pots and walls were all suspended from painted grey- brick walls. The small space which I had visited before, had become an ingeniously envisioned and beautifully executed set reminiscent of El Chavo del Ocho, a cultural reference that made me feel the intimate ways in which this play knew me before it even began.
The first scene sets the tone, a character in a space suit flows through the room holding a Mexican flag in one hand and a U.S. flag in the other. He has arrived, and it is then that I first see part of my story, that of being a human-labeled “alien.” As he waltzes in, a police car zooms by with shining blue lights, this is the Hood, we are reminded, this is where these stories were born, and the stories are like small shards of that shattered glass our lives became due to immigration. Some of us have been trying to piece together an existence where we can feel we are home; forced migration is a painful experience from which we learned to re-create anew. In Meet Juan(ito) Doe, we are asked to look at some of those pieces that have been scattered throughout our community and we are made to reconnect with our parents, first love, limitations, prejudices, potential and most of all, our strength, creativity, capacity to center love in the midst of any condition or situation.
Meet Juan(ito) Doe forces us to remember some of those stories, the funny, the cute, the rebellious, the joyful but also the painful ones and the ones we barely survived. In this show, those stories serve as catalysts that allow our tears to flow in the transformative ways in which only art can move and heal us. The passionate and raw acting humanizes the experience of the immigrant community in a way that is loving, real, and heart opening. It is a dialogue between someone like me who is often at plays seeing others’ lives play out while ours remain silenced and obscured. So many other times we are prisoners of stories that portray us as victims, criminals, inadequate, illegals. At different times, we are reduced to the limiting understanding that the white culture of this country has of us, and we become another consumable version of El Día de Los Muertos. Meet Juan(ito) Doe challenges those narratives, the damaged-center and the cultural consumption of our culture.
The performance weaves six intensely intimate monologues which framed by short yet poignant moments in the lives of many of Chicago’s Mexican-American South Side community. Throughout the 75 minutes running time, I was immersed in a journey that was visually stunning and emotionally engaging.
As I walked out of the space, I reflected on how I never thought I would find myself in a storefront in Back of the Yards in the midst of a forward-thinking, quasi-experimental, brilliantly written and directed play engaging multiple lives of the Mexican-American and Mexican diaspora in Chicago. And that is precisely what Ricardo Gamboa and Ana Velazquez created, a space to feel the range of emotions and witness the lives of so many of us thriving creatively just where we were not meant to do ourselves.
Due to high demand, Meet Juan(ito) Doe performances have been extended through Friday, Nov. 17. The next co-programming for children will be provided on October 26th for FREE! For more information please visit, visit www.freestreet.org or purchase your tickets now https:// fstmjd.brownpapertickets.com/