Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is a solo performance that examines identity in America through the eyes and observations of a Brown young man named Brian Quijada. With his charismatic smile, playwright Quijada’s performance does not waver in his pursuit to be wildly entertaining while tucking weighty issues just beneath the surface.
Quijada is a natural storyteller. We come to know he learned that skill from his Dad. He is deeply inventive in his ways to conjure stories of his life through both delightful and withering observations of growing up Brown in America. He is both smooth and well skilled in using contemporary technology in a way to present himself as the DJ for his performance.
How exactly does he use technology in his one-actor show? Right before the audience’s eyes, he creates and serves up mixtapes on stage using loop machines, incredible beatboxing skills, and god knows what else.
Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is built on scenes that Quijada conjures from the moment he was conceived by passionate parents and later forced to leave the safety of his first home in his mother’s womb. From his vividly presented birth including his desire to retire to the safety of his mother’s womb, Quijada takes the audience by the hand on a journey through his Chicago upbringing to become what he is today: a top-notch solo performer.
In scene after scene, some played for laughs, and others dead serious, Quijada shares his journey through public elementary, middle and high schools to attending college and then marrying. His history is accompanied by music and more music, most of it created right then and there without a “regular” instrument in sight but for a ukelele.
There are life lessons in each scene the audience witnesses. In each case, Quijada depicts how he was challenged, and then blessed with loving parents, adult authority figures such as school teachers, and his own hunger and drive to succeed. He makes clear that he was once a young Brown boy who grew up living in a trailer park with his parents and brothers before moving into a house through his parents’ hard work.
Because of Quijada’s early English language skills, he was placed in classes different than the other Brown boys from his old neighborhood. He was placed in classes with White kids. The impact of this life experience was not lost on him, as he notes in his show.
Quijada’s onstage journey has many high points, including his dissection of why a Brown boy would be infatuated with Michael Jackson, giving new meaning to the song, “I’m Talking to the Man in the Mirror.” Or listening as he speaks with absolute joy of watching (then demonstrating for the audience) how his parents danced lovingly together using their feet and hips so exquisitely. I jealously wish I could swing my hips with such smooth syncopated Latin rhythm to “baile tropicale.”
So why the title, Where Did We Sit On The Bus? The show draws its title from a question Quijada once asked of a teacher when he was very young when his class was learning about Rosa Parks during a Black History Month lesson. Looking around his public school room, Quijada saw White kids and Black kids and wondered first to himself, and then out-loud to the teacher, what about Brown Hispanic people, where were “we” when all of this was going on? Not satisfied with the response he received, the question nagged at him and later became the inspiration for both the title and the production of Where Did We Sit On The Bus?
The question Quijada once asked of a teacher also reverberates in scenes about his being called “White Bread” by some for his willingness to make friends with those who did not look like him. Or in a high school class visit to Ellis Island; the Jewish kids could find ancestors, he could not. Where were Brown people on Ellis Island? That only added to his desire to know more about his own family stories.
Quijada gives the audience a whole bunch to chew about the Hispanic experience in America. He is wonderfully subversive, bringing out in the open a whole bunch of intersections that people of privilege may have no clue about in the lives of Brown people. He lets the audience know his parents were immigrants from El Salvador who came to American when borders were less hardened. Connecting his parents’ arrival in America to current events, he spoke eloquently about DREAMERS and other, using the phrase, “Let Them In.”
So as I began to write this review of the 1st Stage production of Where Did We Sit On The Bus? which is part of the Logan Festival of Solo Performance, I swerved. I wanted more perspective for the issues Quijada raised, especially those that he delivered with passion and in a serious demeanor. How does his story connect with me? It became easy to see how his story connects to me and even current political events.
From the U.S. Census Bureau, I learned that America continues to change in demographics. America is becoming Browner as population growth among whites slows. The Census report indicates that in about 25 years, the U.S. population will become “majority minority.” At that time, whites will make up 49.7 percent of the population compared with 25 percent for Hispanics, 12.7 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians and 3.7 percent for multiracial persons.
So, Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is entertainment, sure. But it is way more as it follows Brian Quijada growing up Latino and trying to learn where his heritage fit into America’s mosaic. Told through a mash-up of Latin music rhythms, rap, hip-hop, spoken word, some poetry and modern DJ technology, Quijada’s story is one we all might want to become familiar with moving beyond our own border lines in our lives. It raises the questions of What is America now? What might America be in the future?
One more thing to add more potency to the production. Quijada spoke about the love of his life, his wife. And then he made sure the audience knew his wife was of Austrian descent. How will America respond to their biracial children should they have children?
Developed by Chicago’s Victory Garden Theatre, Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is directed by Chay Yew. Simply put, Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is not only a very entertaining evening, but exposes critical interactions in America based upon race and class.
Running time: About 80 minutes, with no intermission.