Miguel Martinez-Valle: Celebrating Visibility

Miguel Martinez-Valle

Hola, mis amigos! With all the divisiveness and troubles in the world right now, I hope you will take some time to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Here in Philadelphia, there are lots of opportunities to celebrate. One of those taking the opportunity to educate and celebrate is Miguel Martinez-Valle. Miguel is a bilingual reporter for NBC10 and Telemundo62 and has been using this month to highlight businesses, people, and the history of the community in Philadelphia. He also serves as the co-lead for [email protected] in Philadelphia. I first met him when he and his partner, Raymond Smeriglio, hosted the DVLF Toy event last year, and we’ve been promising to meet and do an interview ever since.

You’re relatively new to Philadelphia. Where are you originally from? 

I was born in Guaymas, Mexico. We left when I was 5 years old but we go back often. My dad worked for Ford so he got moved to the United States. We lived in Tucson, Arizona for a little bit where I went to a bilingual kindergarten. That’s actually where I learned English for the first time! And then we moved to Michigan which is where I grew up. I went to high school and college there.

What is a fond memory from your time in Mexico?

I love Guaymas; we go all the time. The best memories are from the water. I remember my uncle fishing and we’d be hanging out on the boat or on the beach. I’ve always been drawn to the water, I’ve always love the beach when I’m there, and when I’m here I love the shore.

Your dad worked at Ford; tell me about the rest of the family.

My mom worked in finance but she left her job to come to the U.S. She had to start from scratch so I have a lot of respect for her. She’s one of my heroes and also one of my best friends. My dad is the kindest man ever. I have two younger brothers, Gabriel and Michael and they’re really cool. They come to Philly quite a bit to visit and they’re some of my best friends too, we’re all very close. 

I read that you used to get your siblings involved in your elaborate productions. 

There are an embarrassing amount of video tapes of me either directing these skits I would make up or narrating something I saw on the news as I had them recreate it. They like to send them to me and I’m like, we need to burn these! 

What would your parents tell me you were like as a kid?

They’d probably say that they couldn’t get me to be quiet. I always got decent grades, but there was always a note that I talked too much. I had one teacher who would call me a “Social Monarch” [laughing]. I guess that was his way of butching up the social butterfly moniker! But I’ve always been very friendly and outgoing, and very chatty. And now I have the sweet revenge of talking for a living! 

What kind of extracurricular things were you involved in, any sports?

God bless my dad, he tried hard with me and sports. I’m so thankful that he had two younger sons that are huge jocks; that was never me. I was involved in student government as one of the class reps, I did debate and I did TV news. In 8th grade I did the morning announcements on the PA. I loved it so much that when I got to high school, I joined the journalism and TV classes and by junior year I was the main anchor for the school news. 

What was your worst sports moment?

Oh that’s very vivid! I was playing soccer and I accidentally tripped someone. I immediately turned around to make sure that he was okay and help him up but everyone was yelling at me to get the ball. I helped him up anyway and turned around and the ball hit me right in the forehead! Someone kicked it right at my head and I swear, that was the moment that in my mind I was like, “Okay, that’s it. I quit, I’m done with sports.” 

“Not the face!” 

Right? It hit me square in the forehead! That was it for me. 

What’s a great family tradition?

We used to go on these absurdly long road trips. I guess growing up we were cash strapped though I never noticed it. We would drive from Michigan to Mexico which is a 3 day drive and we’d have my parents and 3 kids in the car, sometimes my grandparents, sometimes my aunt and uncle or cousins, so let’s say on our biggest trips, we might have 10 people in an 8 person car on top of each other for 3 days! I remember being uncomfortable and complaining back then, but now it’s a favorite memory! It’s funny, when my family has come to visit here, we’ll go out to dinner and since we only have one car, I’ll cram everyone in. Ray is like, “Uh, why don’t we just call an Uber?” and I’m like, “No, it’s a family tradition, just squish in!” 

That’s great, car trip memories are the best. Where did you go to school?

Michigan State, where I studied journalism and tried to do a second major in marketing, but the math to get into business school was not my friend so I was like, “Journalism it is!”

What was your journey here to Philadelphia?

In Michigan when I was a senior, I’d put together at least one news package each week for one of the local stations and that helped me build a reel. My first real TV job was in Las Vegas. I started at Univision, and then switched over to Fox5 there. That situation was great because it gave me a chance to report the news in both Spanish and English. So when they had a position open here in Philly for NBC10 and Telemundo62 it felt like a fit that was made for me.

It’s great that you continued your Spanish. Was that your parents’ doing? 

It was 100% my parents, and I’m so thankful for it. They had a very strict rule that at home we spoke Spanish only. They knew we were going to learn English at school and speak it with everyone outside the house but the second we got home, if one of us said something in English, we couldn’t respond until the person said it in Spanish. 

I know visibility is important to you. Did you see much of yourself reflected on TV as a young person? 

I had to turn to a very specific channel to see someone like me on the news. There wasn’t much representation of any kind on the network stations. I mean, for Halloween I was “Fez” from “That ‘70s Show” three years in a row, and one time I was Dora the Explorer”! [Laughing] I’m very proud of being Mexican, American, and Latino but I had very limited choices for characters I could play!  But now, being able to be visible as both a Latino and as an openly queer man has been really cool because hopefully I can be that representation that I didn’t have for someone else. 

And for those Latinx people who didn’t get to keep up with their Spanish, they wouldn’t have even had places like Telemundo to go to. 

For real! I always encourage people to practice their Spanish. Being bilingual is such an advantage; my friends can watch me do the news in English on NBC10 and then my grandma can watch clips of me that my parents send her that are in Spanish. Before that, when I was just doing English broadcasts, she’d tell me, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, but you look handsome.”

So let’s talk about your move to Philly!

Philly was the most unexpected blessing that I’ve ever had. I didn’t know a lot about the city when I moved here. I got here in December of 2017, and if you remember, in 2018 the Eagles won the Super Bowl! The best advice I got was just to shout “Go Birds” at everyone and I’d fit right in. So I leaned into that and Philly embraced me.

You’ve covered a myriad of stories over the years, but what’s one of the stories that moved you the most and what was the hardest?

I was in Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire on people at the Harvest Festival. He killed 60 people and close to 900 were wounded either by gunshot or by the stampede as people began to panic. That really impacted me. I remember later thinking, “Okay, I need to be near community” and Philly was perfect for that. Unfortunately, since then I’ve covered a few of the other school shootings, the most recent being the Uvalde shootings. That one was particularly heartbreaking for me because a lot of the families looked like my family. But you need to tell these stories so that, hopefully, something can be done to prevent them from happening next time. On the flip side, I’ve gotten to do some amazing things. I got to cover the Olympics this year, which was such a unique experience. Because we were all in the bubble, we got to be up close with the athletes, hang out and eat lunch with them. I wasn’t able to see any of Beijing but I got to know the people I was reporting on. 

What were some of the highlights?

Other than the daily Covid tests, what stands out is that I got to learn so much that I didn’t know about some of the sports and do things like stories on how much diversity there was. There were record number of openly LGBTQ+ athletes competing, and I got to speak to the first openly non-binary athlete to compete in the winter olympics, pairs skater Timothy LeDuc. There were people like Elana Meyers Taylor who became the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympic history at Beijing 2022. It was so cool to see people breaking barriers for other people.

A favorite celebrity encounter?

Oooh, that’s hard, okay, Shawn Mendes. He came to Philly to do a concert. I love Shawn Mendes and I did an interview with him where I taught him the Eagles chant. He was such a good sport and so much fun, and really nice, and he was at the game so it probably came in handy! One of my best friends and co-workers, Alondra, who is also a huge fan, and I were able to see the show and go backstage afterwards, it was great. 

What was your coming out journey like?

You know, I’ve always kind of known that I was attracted to men. There was never an internal struggle, it was more practical, trying to calculate, “when can I tell the world who I am.” I remember being in high school and thinking, “Okay, I’m already the only brown kid at my school, so I’m not going to be the only out kid too, I really don’t want to deal with that now. Hey, maybe I’m bisexual, I’ll date women now and see what happens later when the world is ready for meet be fully myself.” And that’s what I did until college until I realized that me living in the shadows impacted other people, not just me. It wasn’t fair to the women I was dating, and I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to explore love and have the open and public types of relationships that I saw my straight friends having. I realized that I deserved that too, so I was gearing up to come out when I got beat to the punch. 

My boyfriend at the time wrote me a beautiful love note for Valentine’s Day. I read the letter and put it in my pocket, forgetting about it until I went home the next weekend and my mother found it doing the laundry. The next thing I know, I’m eating breakfast with my dad while my mom is getting ready to go to the mall, because that was our thing to do together since I was a kid. How was that not a clue? I mean how many little boys love shopping with their moms? 

Anyway, my dad goes, “My son, we need to talk about something…” I was like, “Oh no, this is happening now.” He took the note out and said, “What is this?” The note was signed, ‘Love, your boyfriend” so there was no way to spin it! So I said, “Yeah, I have a boyfriend. I’m gay.” He took a deep breath and said, “You are my first born son, I love you and I’m so proud of you” and that was it. He was so sweet, it was the best reaction I could have hoped for. And then he said, “But you have to tell your mom” which made me laugh because I was like, “Didn’t she find the note? She knows!” But we had a conversation on the way to the mall and she cried, but probably more for the shattering of the world that she had moved to this country to build and the fear that things would be harder for me because of who I loved. But now it’s all good. Ray and I just went on a couples vacation with my mom and dad; they love Ray and they’re both so supportive. She just needed to see that I wasn’t going to be alone, it wasn’t going to make my life harder, in fact it made it more vibrant and happier.

A lot of people forget that we’ve taken years, sometimes decades to process it and figure out what it’ll mean for us, good or bad, and then we expect people to absorb the news at dinner and be fine with it at breakfast. 

Absolutely, it took me a while to realize that. I had to grow a little bit myself and give her grace and I learned that the only experience she had with LGBTQ representation was someone in her home town who was beaten nearly to death for being gay, so naturally she was scared. It took a while for her to realize that that was not the only outcome for us. It was not the everyday existence for most of us. It is for enough of us that there’s still a lot of work to do, but that there was so much good in my life that comes from being myself. 

What was an early sign you were gay, other than dressing up as Dora the Explorer? 

I thought that was clever, but anyway, I had a lot of family around growing up, my dad’s one of 10 and I had about 80 cousins. At family gatherings, the boys would go off to play football [soccer] and I’d play with my cousins Claudia and Nicole. I didn’t exactly play with their Barbie’s but I would create news clips or telenovelas for them to act out. I was also pretty flamboyant when I was very young, you learn how to hide it as you get older, around middle school to deter bullying [laughing] but when I was young and free, I was very flailly. My limbs would go in all places, ‘cause I was very soft and bendy in my movements. 

And very pretty too I’m sure. 

Well, thank you! 

So moving to the present day, talk a little bit about what you’re doing now.

I am the morning reporter for NBC10 and Telemundo62. I do the news of the day, so a little bit of everything, but what’s exciting right now is that we’re in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month and I’m so lucky to work for an organization that lets me fully embrace that. They’ve given me a lot of time to do stories featuring the Latinx impactors in our community, from a story on the impact of Mexican immigrants revitalizing the Italian Market in the ‘90s to the Mexican Independence Day Festival at Penn’s Landing. I was able to highlight one of the artists from the mural at Giovanni’s Room and how she draws inspiration from the queer community along with her Latinx roots. I have a special coming up at the end of the month which I’m really proud of too. 

Have you faced any blatant discrimination from being either Latinx or queer?

I’ve been really lucky, a lot of my friends are people I’ve known since middle school, so I’ve had that cocoon around me. Even when I came out to the straight ones, they were like, “Cool man, so what’s for dinner?” [Laughing] To the point that I was mad, like “Excuse me, this is the most dramatic thing that’s ever happened to me, I need a bigger reaction!” Though I guess my diva dramatics are what made the news not much of a surprise in the first place! There was one bullying experience that stuck with me. One time while I was waiting for my friends to finish football practice after I’d run cross country and a kid walked by me and said, “What are you waiting for José Queervo?” and I was so mad because I was insulted, because it was both racist and homophobic, but at the same time it was the most clever thing he’d ever said! [Laughing] And now I’m thinking, “Should I be José Queervo for Halloween?” Embrace it right?

I love it. Have you ever done other jobs while coming up?

I was a floor model for Hollister clothing in high school. I was making minimum wage thinking I was an actual model. My job was to greet people at the door and say, “Hey, what’s up? Welcome to the Pier” and I thought it was the coolest thing around.

What’s the worst hairstyle you tried to rock?

Oh, going back to middle school, trying to do that Justin Bieber look. But my hair has texture, so it was just a frizzy mess! 

How did you and Ray get together?

Ray is involved in a lot of things in the city so working in the news, I’d see him out at a lot of functions. But he always had a boyfriend and if he was free, I had a boyfriend, the timing never matched, and then we met on Tinder and he asked me on a date. We were on and off until one day he confessed his love to me, at least that’s the way I remember it! And we’ve been together ever since! 

Habit you’d like to break?

I have serious FOMO, fear of missing out, and I have to break that because I need to sleep more. I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning, but I still like to go out! 

What’s the worst hairstyle you tried to rock?

Oh, going back to middle school, and trying to do that Justin Bieber look, but my hair has texture, so it was just a frizzy mess! 

You also like to travel a lot, what’s a place that surprised you?

Not knowing much about shore culture other than what I learned from Snooki and the “Jersey Shore” kids, I was surprised at how beautiful and quaint Cape May was. It’s such a gem, both historic and queer friendly. 

Best gay bar, not in Philly?

Piranha’s in Las Vegas. That was the spot; you could find me in there all the time. 

What’s your favorite spot outside of the US?

Thailand. They call it the land of a thousand smiles and it’s true. Everyone was so smiley, so kind. It was amazing. 

Well, with that thousand watt smile of yours, I’m sure you fit right in!