Enrique Cerna (’75 Comm.), longtime broadcast journalist and now podcaster, reflects on his personal history, career, race, and podcasting.
Read more about Cerna’s latest podcast, Chino y Chicano.
“My grandfather on my dad’s side had to flee Mexico. He was a landowner during the revolution. My grandmother had twenty kids. Fifteen made it to adulthood. My father went back to Mexico, and that’s where he met my mom. I’m the youngest of five that lived. We lost one sister who died in Mexico at a year old.”
“We have a family reunion the second Saturday of every July. We’ve done it every year since 1982 except for now because of COVID. A couple hundred people usually come. We have a big taco feed, a golf tournament, an auction, and dance. We’re an economic stimulus when we come to town.”
On transitioning from Wapato to WSU
“That first year was rough.” Large classes felt particularly foreign. “You’d go to these lectures with several hundred kids and the professor’s talking a mile a minute and you’re like, ‘This is too fast,’” Cerna says, noting, “There were 163 people in my high school graduating class.”
That first year, Cerna was involved in a harrowing accident during a snowstorm about ten miles outside of Colfax. He had caught a ride with a friend from Wapato, and they were returning to WSU after a weekend back home. The friend’s car started to stall on the two-lane highway as another vehicle tried to pass on their right. It “hit us from behind and knocked us into the middle of the road,” says Cerna, whose glasses flew off during the crash. As he looked for them on the floor, a semi-truck carrying cattle was headed straight for them. His friend yelled, “Get out!” And, with moments to spare, “I managed to jump out.” The car was smashed. Cerna and his hometown buddies waited for help in the snow and ice. “I got sick by the end of that week.”
On nearly failing first semester
Bronchitis and pneumonia kept him from classes and schoolwork, and his grade point average sank below 1.0. “I kept thinking, ‘I don’t ever want to feel like that again. I don’t ever want to be in that kind of situation. I’ve got to take charge of it. I’ve got to own it.’ That’s something I kept in mind throughout my career: You’ve got to own it, as hard as it is. Adversity is something you’ve got to deal with if you don’t have a boring life.”
“Shaky,” but much better.
“I interned at KREM in Spokane my first semester senior year. I did the whole fall semester there, sharing an apartment near Lewis and Clark (High School) with my sister who was doing her student teaching. I got something like fifteen credits. The thing about internships at that time was it was better to try to get an internship in a smaller market where you could actually do something. I ended up getting quite a bit of on-air experience at KREM, and I made a lot of great friends.”
“I went to Seattle right out of college. I was very fortunate to start out in Seattle. I was lucky to spend my whole career here.”
On the ‘Seattle freeze’ and microaggressions
“Seattle is known for its ‘Seattle freeze.’ It sort of prides itself on being an open, progressive city. Portland, too. But it has this reputation of people being cold and not friendly, and I’d say that’s probably somewhat true. I’ve lived here a long time so maybe I don’t notice it as much, but if you were coming from somewhere else you might feel it a bit more. Compared to other cities, Seattle is progressive. But we’re also a city that is still 68 percent white. The racism maybe isn’t as blatant as other parts of the country, but we (people of color) still experience it, particularly in terms of microaggressions. Those are issues we have to deal with: how we all get along and accept people that are different. It’s still a white community.”
“It was something I grew up with. It was something that really affected my ability to function. I’ve had some issues with depression connected to a lot of that stuff. I took a lot of crap from people who would call me the N-word. It used to bother me a lot, particularly in high school. I had a coach—a white coach in Wapato—that used to call me ‘tar baby,’ and (my teammates) all thought it was funny. You’re sort of singled out. I finally did tell him, ‘Hey, I don’t like it when you call me that.’ And he said, ‘I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.’ It was actually really hurtful.
“My senior year, I was playing football. Being dark, they always equated me with being Black. There’s nothing wrong with being Black, but I’m not Black. I’m Mexican American. And they hung this banner for our football team in the main hallway depicting me as a caricature in black face with a raised fist. I got really upset. I’m not that, and you’re just reinforcing this negative stereotype of me and other people who are dark-skinned. It really bugged me. You don’t forget that stuff very easily. It was a painful moment.”
“I worked in a business that’s very dominated by white people. I was one of the very few producers of color, hosts of color. There’s this mentality of fitting in and assimilating, and people expecting you to assimilate. I remember a particular person, a supervisor, who in a meeting told us he didn’t want a Black colleague voicing a PSA spot because he ‘sounds too Black.’ I was like ‘Seriously?’ Over the years, I’ve gotten letters, I’ve gotten emails, that called me various racial slurs.”
On allyship, listening, and learning
“I think a lot of people are nervous about saying the wrong thing. I think more than anything else, you can learn a lot by listening to people. Spend some time listening to some different points of view. There will likely be something that will inform you or educate you in a way that you haven’t been informed or educated before. There will likely be something to help you understand what people of color have gone through and maybe prompt you to ask your yourself: ‘How can I be involved? What can I do to offer assistance?’ We’ve got to shake off the intimidation or the concern about saying the wrong thing. You can always start out by saying, ‘I might say the wrong thing. Please correct me if I do.’ I think if you put yourself out there and spend some time listening and learning, you’ll get something out of it.
“I think people need to hear the voices that you don’t always hear in the mainstream media. And I think people need to be allies with all communities (of color). They need be willing to talk with us in a way that’s more open and personal. If we can get more folks to listen—they might not agree with what we’re saying or what people are saying—I still think it’s a good way to get some understanding of what people (of color) are facing or are concerned about, particularly at this time.”
Chino y Chicano
“We knew we would probably be covering issues related to COVID and racial disparities and political parts of things. We wanted to bring our perspectives and the perspectives of other people of color of our generation to the table so that the younger generations would realize what people (of color) had to deal with beforehand. Every generation makes some change and progress. But when it comes to issues of race, we’ve been very slow about it. I think each generation has a more open attitude, and that’s part of the progress. But it’s still an issue. It’s easy for the majority to just blow it off. You have to keep the pressure on. We have to continuously demand change.
“People from ethnicities that are dark, they all want the same thing: a place where they can live in peace and have opportunity and educate their kids. I think it’s good we’re having more change in our government. I’m glad to see we’re getting more diversity. People of color still don’t have the same opportunities. In issues of economics and health care, we’re behind the eight ball. COVID has really shown the racially inequality and just how disparate we are. The timing of this is really important. And it’s been a lot of fun. For me, it’s been a really good learning experience. At times, it feels like I’m working full time. It’s also been interesting during this time of COVID. We interview people over Zoom.
“My friend Matt Chan, he’s very accomplished. He created the show Hoarders and has had a long career in broadcast. It’s been great to get to collaborate with him. He’s a bit more unfiltered than me. I’m more of the traditional news guy. That’s one of the reasons we do this, too—to be able to express ourselves. It’s been a bit liberating for me.”
The first episode
“It’s probably our most downloaded.”
“We try to keep each episode between thirty and forty minutes. Occasionally they go a bit longer. It just depends on the guest and what they’re saying. If it gets a bit redundant or we have technical issues, we’ll tighten it up. We take a couple of days to edit an episode because I’m picky and Matt is more technical than I am. I do the edit, then send it to him and he listens to it and gives me feedback. It takes time, but I’ve gotten faster at turning it out.
We’re trying to put something good out there that’s very listenable. And we’re trying to turn it out on a weekly basis. We want to make sure we have something consistent and timely. We’re just doing it ourselves. We’re funding it. We’re not trying to make any money on it right now. Editorially we want to be in control.”
Board of Regents
“I’m very committed to making the opportunity to attend WSU open to all young people of color. I was very fortunate to go to WSU. It was not an easy experience. But it became a good experience. My WSU experience and connections really helped me in my career, especially in getting my first job and internship. I had the foundation. And I worked hard to establish myself. Being a Regent, to me, it’s just a thrill in many respects. I’m in a position now to be able to give back.”
On the web
Find Chino y Chicano on Spotify, Apple, Google, Stitcher, and iHeartRadio. It’s hosted by Buzzsprout.
Watch episodes on YouTube. Search for Chino y Chicano.
Meet Matt Chan (Northwest Asian Weekly)
The Yakima Herald-Republic covers Enrique Cerna’s retirement
Cerna joins the WSU Board of Regents
Cerna’s documentary Latinos: The Changing Face of Washington
More about one of the people featured in the special (Crosscut)