Latino drag queens pave the way for more representation in Milwaukee's drag scene
On a Thursday night at Hamburger Mary’s in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, about a dozen people were having a good time, excited for Divas de La Noche to begin. Before the show, the hosts got the crowd riled up and encouraged them to cheer on the artists.
Divas de la Noche is Hamburger Mary's weekly show that features Latinos in Milwaukee’s drag scene. Juan Mejia, who performs as drag queen Setareh Ouellet, co-hosts the show.
Mejia said when he was first getting started in drag, there weren’t many spaces for Latinos to call home within Milwaukee’s drag scene.
“We didn’t have a place for us that celebrates Latin artists,” Mejia said. “Hamburger Mary’s gave us a spot so we can show people the spiciness, the pretty queens and everything. That’s what we say in Hamburger Mary's, ‘Welcome to Divas de la Noche! The Latinx show where we feature the most beautiful and spiciest queens of the city and all the surrounding areas.’”
Across Wisconsin, more Latinos have been getting into drag and creating shows that feature Latino performers, like Noche Latina in Kenosha and Noches Latinas in Madison.
In Milwaukee, Divas de la Noche is the main show, which takes place every week, featuring only Latino performers. Mejia said having spaces like Divas de la Noche is important for Latinos in Milwaukee’s drag scene. It gives them the space to come together and pave the way for more Latinos to follow their passion.
Jesus Chavez performs as drag queen Venezia Voyer. Chavez said he fell in love with drag as a teenager and always wanted to perform, but he worried about how his family would react. Seeing other Latinos perform as drag queens gave him the confidence to follow his passion. He said many have served as great mentors.
“I wanted to do it, but then again I was on the fence just because of what my family would say,” Chavez said. “Setareh was telling me that there weren’t many Latina queens here in Milwaukee, and to think about it, so we could make the Latina drag community grow here. So, I ended up doing it and now there’s a lot more Latina queens."
Chavez said he appreciates having support from both Milwaukee’s Latino drag community and the greater local drag scene as he continues to develop his craft. But the support Chavez has been given hasn’t always been the experience of others.
Valentin Elizalde is based in Madison and performs as long-time drag queen Monica Ciccone. Elizalde said when he was first starting out in drag he faced discrimination because he is Latino. He remembers how difficult his early days in drag were, when not all drag queens were accepting of him, and how hard he had to work to build a reputation for himself.
“The ones who didn’t like me, they didn’t ever like me,” Elizalde remembered. “But they started seeing that there were more of us. Not only me, but a lot of girls coming from Milwaukee, a lot of girls who already won Ms. Gay Wisconsin, who already won Ms. Gay Madison. [They saw others] who already won all those titles that they thought they [were] the only ones who deserved them. Now, they know that yeah, 'we’re Latinos but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do what you’re doing,' and believe me, we’re gonna do it better.”
Elizalde said he’s happy to see Wisconsin’s drag scene become more inclusive of Latinos and celebrate their contributions. Still, there are problems.
Angel Pabllo who performs as drag queen Adore Sanchez, said he’s noticed that Latinos in Milwaukee’s drag scene are sometimes discounted. Despite the hardships, Pablo said the Latin drag community is small but mighty, and here to stay.
“It’s kind of nice to see that we’re creating spaces for ourselves and we’re not going anywhere. It’s more than just getting diversity points on a show,” Pabllo said. “It means something to us to be able to represent our culture through the art form that we’ve chosen.”
Pabllo said he hopes the Latino drag community will continue to grow and be given bigger opportunities to perform in the future.