Drag Performer Karla Croqueta on Cuban Culture and Being So Miami

Miami's very own Karla Croqueta.
Miami's very own Karla Croqueta. Photo by Karli Evans
Last month, the filmmaking duo of Karli Evans and Cassandra Keith launched an Indiegogo campaign to help finish funding their film, Emergence. The documentary pairs interviews with drag performers and behind-the-scenes looks at them preparing for gigs, and then dives into a fantasy of each queen's creation in a short film sequence.

New Times spoke with Emergence's six performers for a deeper look into the film and the world that inspired it. The first interview in our series was with Jupiter Velvet. This week, we turn our attention to one of the people instrumental in jump-starting Miami's new wave of drag: Josue Garcia, AKA Karla Croqueta.

New Times: Where did your name come from?

Well, I love croquetas, so that’s a given. But I’m from Hialeah, and Karla’s name was stumbled upon by accident. Gio [Profera, AKA Juleisy, of Juleisy y Karla] and I were planning to go out one day, and I had given him the name "Juleisy Inbed" a long time ago because he’s lazy in bed. He had this chonga character he’d do on Cosplay Tuesday at Sushi Samba.

So he was giving me really chonga names like "Marieslay" or "Jusnavi," and I was like, “Nobody is going to be able to say these names, and 'Juleisy' is already difficult, so let’s go simple.” So Gio came up with Carla, and I said, “But it has to be 'Karla' with a 'K,' because that would be really fucking Cuban.”

What’s the story behind the big personality that is Karla Croqueta?

Karla is a little bit of every girl I went to school with. She’s all my sisters, and my sisters’ friends, and all of my mom’s friends. Karla is basically every personality I’ve interacted with my entire life in Hialeah and every big persona I continue to come across. It’s a hodgepodge of a bunch of people I grew up with.

How did you get started doing drag?

Gio and I were broke as fuck, and we were going to go on some kind of trip, like eight years ago, and we wanted free drinks. So we went to a lesbian night at Sunset Tavern. Gio was like, “I’ll put you in drag. They can’t say we’re not women.” And he did. And we went. And they gave us free drinks, bro. Juleisy y Karla were born out of being broke.

What are your inspirations as a performer?

I’m inspired by a lot of life experiences, by all the people I grew up with. That’s where the character comes from; that’s where the persona comes from; that’s where the clothing I wear comes from. It’s my culture — where I come from.

Karla is a very Miami-based character, and no matter where you place her, you know she’s from somewhere tropical, loud, rambunctious, colorful, and exuberant. I’ve traveled with Karla before, and no matter where I go, they always know it’s Miami. It’s embedded in the way I speak. It’s the “bro,” the “guy,” the really high-pitched stupid commentary.

And in being inspired by everything in my life, a lot comes from conversations with my mom. Conversations with her are very inspirational, and not in a cheesy-movie kind of way, but more like my mom says some dumbass shit and it’s funny as fuck. I’m just repeating the stupid things she says to me when I’m in character.

What is your fantasy segment of the film about?

My segment is a very reflective moment. It’s very much a coming-of-age moment for Karla, as I’ve started to see myself in a different kind of artistic light. At the very beginning, it’s just me at the beach thinking, because Karli asked me what I do to get inspired, and that’s what I do for a show: I just meditate. I’m in my head, quiet, doing my makeup. She asked about how it works when I’m conceptualizing, and for me, the shows just happen in my life. Things in my life just happen, and I think, That would be hilarious onstage, so I save them in a little pocketbook in my brain.

So [the segment] starts with me at the beach at sunrise, very beautiful and picturesque. It’s a meditative moment with me by myself in my element before walking into this empty, disheveled theater that’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m alone and singing to myself, for myself, and it’s reflective of the past, of where my drag started, and where I plan to take it in the future. This is the journey I’m on right now. The song is “When We Were Young” by Adele, so it’s just trying to remember all of the good times while moving forward and creating really new, positive engagements with my drag and personality.

Tell us a little about working on the production.

It was a long day — a very long day! We started filming at like 6:30 a.m. and didn't finish until 9 p.m. But it was really cool to see how Karli and Cassandra were working together. It was just us in the room, basically, except for an assistant with me to help with makeup and lighting and stuff. At the beach, there were more people, but once we went into the cabaret, it was just the song playing back and us.

I was collaborating with a different type of artist than I had collaborated with before, in the sense that they were exploring the way that they wanted to shoot this in so many ways. So they'd come up to me and say, "How would you feel if we did this, this, and this?" when it came to camera angles. They really wanted everyone's input, which was really cool, compared to projects in the past where it's people saying, "This is what you're gonna do, and action," y'know?

They had a really great way of collaborating with me as an artist and wanting to see if our visions were aligned and how they could be aligned through a video, because I'm a performance artist and they're filmmakers. It's all about how we get this on film to project what the feeling I'm evoking is, and I can't wait to watch the project in full.

Where can we find you regularly?

You can find me every Tuesday at Gramps, hosting trivia, and I do a lot of pop-ups. I just finished a show at Microtheater, I'm working with Villain Theater soon, and you can follow me all the time on Instagram, @karlacroqueta, bro.

For more information about
Emergence, visit
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Juan Antonio Barquin is a Miami-based writer who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim the House Lights. Barquin aspires to be Bridget Jones.