He was working on another podcast when he got the idea for a new one.
Enrique Cerna, semi-retired and cohosting Life on the Margins about Seattle’s historically marginalized groups, shared tidbits about those segments with a former colleague and longtime friend from their early days at KING TV. Cerna (’75 Comm.) and Matt Chan, creator of the A&E show Hoarders, had been Zooming once a week during the pandemic. In one of those virtual visits, he said, “‘You and I should do something.’”
That something became Chino y Chicano.
The two friends—“He’s Chinese American, I’m Mexican American,” Cerna explains—wanted to explore issues of race following the police killing of George Floyd, global protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and increasing national polarization. Or, as Cerna wrote in the description: “the good, bad, and ridiculousness of life for people of color in America.”
They recorded a test episode last December. “I think we did it in one take,” says Cerna, noting that the two combined have more than 80 years of experience in the television business. “Our goal really was to bring the experience we had as two people of color—two men of color—and focus on communities and issues that are often overlooked, to share a perspective that a lot of people don’t seem to hear. We’re going through this racial reckoning now. But we still have a long way to go to deal with racism in this country. We want to have a conversation about that with different people. This is very important.”
One of Seattle’s most respected broadcast journalists, Cerna is known for his specials on social issues as well as political analysis and fair and balanced moderation of mayoral, gubernatorial, and national debates. He retired from KCTS public television in 2018 after 23 years. Overall, his broadcast career in Seattle spanned nearly 45 years, including stints at both KOMO Radio and TV as well as KING TV. He has won ten regional Emmy Awards and was inducted into the Silver Circle of the Northwest chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences in 2013.
In 2020, he joined the Board of Regents at Washington State University, where he almost failed the first semester of his freshman year in 1971.
First, there was the culture shock. Cerna came to Pullman as a first-generation college student from the small farming community of Wapato in central Washington. “Going in,” he says, “I didn’t know how to do college. It was sort of trial by fire.”
Then, he got sick. Pneumonia coupled with bronchitis and a fever as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit kept him from classes and schoolwork. By mid-term, his grade point average had sunk below 1.0. “I just felt like I was failing all around.”
Rather than give up, Cerna says, “I became determined. I decided I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to work really hard. And I did. Having made my way through that, as tough as it was, was a good thing. It was about adversity. I thought, ‘OK, if I can get through that, maybe I can get through school’”—and whatever else might come his way.
He and Chan “were often the first or one of the few people of color in our business,” Cerna says. “We had many challenges—the challenge to be accepted, the challenge to be represented—and it wasn’t always easy. It still isn’t easy.”
Overcoming adversity is one of the themes of Chino y Chicano, which has featured guests such as retired KING TV news anchor Lori Matsukawa, National Public Radio journalist Maria Hinojosa, Seattle mayoral candidate and former Seattle SuperSonic James Donaldson (’79 Socio.), South Seattle Emerald founder Marcus Harrison Green, and Michael Flor, one of the country’s first cases of COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic, Cerna, owner of Cerna Media Services, has been recording the podcast from the living room of his Ballard condo. He and Chan connect with their guests over Zoom. Cerna edits the podcast, reviews it with Chan, then uploads it to their podcast platform for distribution. He also creates a video version and posts that to YouTube.
Their target audience: “Anyone who will listen,” Cerna says. “I don’t say that facetiously. It would be nice if we can get White people to listen, in general, just to have some understanding. It feels like a chance to educate and maybe even change people’s perspectives, particularly (those of) White people who tune in.”
They keep the tone conversational and approachable, exploring serious and often tough topics “through individual stories and experiences. We’re here,” Cerna says, “to give people a platform so they can tell their story.”
Outtakes from the conversation with Cerna