Skip to content

Meet this year’s MC

All communities have hidden narratives, and Melissa Elmira Yingst is all about finding and bringing awareness to them, especially when they celebrate women and muxeristas.

As a child in Southern California, she sought for deep connections with other people. As she grew, she realized she wanted to do something more. She ventured off to Gallaudet University to earn her Bachelor’s in Psychology, and to Arizona State University for her Master’s in Social Work. Since then, she has held different jobs in the field of media, marketing and counseling.  Melissa currently works at Lexington School for the Deaf as a school counselor. Melissa is also very involved with the community and is a board member for Council de Manos and Signed by Stories. 

Now living in her favorite city, New York City,  with her signature red lipstick (which gives her powers) and her brown Chicana self, she is ready to take on the world doing more with MELMIRA! 

Meet this year’s judges!

Peter Cook

Peter S. Cook is an internationally reputed Deaf performing artist whose works incorporates American Sign Language, pantomime, storytelling, acting, and movement.

He has traveled extensively around the country and aboard with Flying Words Project to promote ASL Literature with Kenny Lerner since 1986. Peter has appeared in Live from Off Center’s “Words on Mouth” (PBS) and “United States of Poetry” (PBS) produced by Emmy winner Bob Holman.

Peter was featured at the National Storytelling festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., and the Tales of Graz in Graz, Austria, The Deaf Way II and the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Peter has worked with Deaf storytellers/poets in Europe, Brazil, Israel and Japan. Peter was invited to the White House to join the National Book Festival in 2003. He also involved in numerous film projects including the ITV’s Signed Stories.

Peter lives in Chicago and is the Chair of the ASL Department at Columbia College Chicago. He received the 1997 Excellence in Teaching award as well as one of the finalists for 2018 Excellence in Teaching award.

Justin Perez

Justin was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He was a student at Texas School for the Deaf. He has always been fascinated by American Sign Language (ASL) performance art and storytelling styles. Throughout his teenage years, he had incredibly deep bonds with several of his close friends who also enjoy sharing a variety of ASL stories, and that was where he defined numerous storytelling techniques along with sign language expressions. The more he shared his stories with the public; the more people have asked him to continue sharing his stories.

That was the fuel to his creativity and innovative persona in pushing new sign language art performances. He quickly realized this type of work is something he is passionate about. Justin started receiving offers and opportunities all over the world, including being a Visual Vernacular (VV) teacher at Texas School for the Deaf, ASL tutor at National Technical Institute of the Deaf, ASL model and expert with TRUE+WAY ASL curriculum, and many more. In 2007, he won the ASL Elements national ASL competition with his fan favorite, a Super Mario Kart story. He ultimately aims to bring his Visual Vernacular performance art to the World.

Diane Squires

Diane Squires is a Deaf artist who uses her mixed medias including acrylic painting, collages, and especially digital art through the Art Rage app, the Procreate app and more.

While living in her large hearing family in Boston, Diane often spent her time creating artworks in her basement. 

Diane had studied Art at Emmanuel College for a year before she transferred to Gallaudet. Diane graduated from Gallaudet with BA Degree in Psychology in ‘91. She chose to attend the Deaf college so she can experience her personal journey through her education and social life.  

As of January 2023, Diane hopes to return doing her artworks more often again.  

Her several artworks were exhibited in DC, Kentucky, Rochester NY and Boston.

Diane resides in the South Shore Massachusetts area with her wonderful Chihuahua/Pomeranian dog Carmen (she).  Along with her artwork, she has also worked for Rover for 2 and 1/2 years.  

Elbert Joseph

Elbert Joseph, was born in 1981 and I am a Deaf actor who is fluent in both American Sign Language as well as spoken English.  EJ have received some Independent Reviewers nominated and some Eliot Norton nominated in some productions: Louis (Trumpet of the Swan IRNe nominated supporting role) at Wheelock Family Theatre, I have received Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNe) with a Special Recognition for my work in the Ware Trilogy- Mother Hicks, Taste of Sunrise and Edge of Peace as Tuc almost simultaneously on three stages at Emerson Stage, Wheelock Family Theatre and Central Square Theatre in Boston/Cambridge, MA. Ensemble (Best Production, Best Ensemble, IRNe winner), Chorus (Antigone, nominated IRNe supporting role, Flat Earth Theatre, Watertown, MA), Newt Lee (Parade at Moonbox Productions, best production, Eliot Norton winner)

Most recently I have received 2021 ACI/Ripple award, 2021 unsettling Dramaturgy award, and one of Artery’s 25 artists of color transforming the cultural landscape. He has received 2022 3D Disability Impact List Award.