Chicago Portrait: Milani Ninja

Chicago drag queen Milani Ninja is performing at the National Museum of Mexican Art for its 17th annual Queer Prom, but unlike the five other times she’s performed at the event, this year’s show is pre-recorded for a virtual prom on Friday.

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The 32-year-old drag queen was born in Mexico and grew up in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood with a large Puerto Rican population. In January 2009, she started performing in drag.

“By the way, I am considered the biggest Puerto Rican Mexican because even though I’m not Puerto Rican, I grew up in Puerto Rican community,” Ninja said. “My first pageant that I won is called Ms. Paseo Boricua and my first crown is of the two Puerto Rican flags.”

Milani Ninja performed Beyoncé’s 2013 Super Bowl halftime show at the museum on May 31 in front of two socially distanced videographers for Friday’s queer prom, which will be broadcast via Zoom and feature live DJ sets as well as the crowning of Prom King, Queen and Queer.

Alfredo Flores, one of the event’s lead organizers, attended the queer prom as a high school student years ago and said it provides a welcoming place for young people.

“It’s like prom, but it’s more targeted towards individuals who are LGBT,” Flores said. “So, it’s a space where youth who don’t feel comfortable maybe going to their own prom — or maybe people who haven’t attended their own prom — can attend this queer prom because we try to be as inclusive as possible.”

Given the current state of unrest in Chicago during June – Pride Month, a celebration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and other LGBTQ movements, Milani Ninja reflected on the LGBTQ’s ability to affect change.

“A lot of people don’t realize how powerful us drag queen performers and transgender women are in our community,” Ninja said. “Because it was Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, who threw the first brick and started the Stonewall Riots and because of her, because of people of color is the reason why we’re all sitting here, talking about this.”

Friday’s event is open to high school students only, visit the museum’s website for more information.

About this series

Chicago Portrait is a WTTW News documentary-style series focusing on the stories of everyday Chicagoans who reflect the city’s 77 diverse community areas.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

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