Enrique Cerna and Matt Chan, two veterans of television work, had many conversations as people of color in the industry and in the United States. They decided to start a podcast, Chino Y Chicano, to talk about the tough complexities of race, and invite guests to join those discussions.
Cerna, an alum and Regent of Washington State University, discusses the start of the podcast, the guests they’ve talked to and topics they covered, and other topics from personal history to advice for aspiring journalists of color.
Read about Cerna’s life, work, and the podcast in “Talk the walk,” Fall 2021 issue of Washington State Magazine.Support the show
We didn't want to code switch, meaning that you know, for people of color often times when you are in a White world, you might talk differently. So we didn't want to do that. We wanted to be blunt about who we are and what our concerns are, where we're coming from. And we wanted to hear from other people who would talk the same way.
Enrique Cerna and his friend Matt Chan, both veterans of the television business, started their podcast to examine issues around race in the United States. You're listening to Viewscapes. Stories from Washington State Magazine, connecting you to Washington State University, the state and the world. Cerna, a WSU alum and regent, talks about the inspiration for the podcast, the guests Chan and Cerna have talked to, and the importance of learning about race, culture and history.
I'm Adriana Janovich, associate editor at Washington State magazine, and I'm here with WSU Regent and longtime Seattle broadcast journalist Enrique Cerna, cofounder, cohost, and coproducer of Chino y Chicano, a podcast about, quote, the good, bad and ridiculousness of life for people of color in America. How did the idea for the podcast come about?
Well, I have a good friend of mine who is the Chino in the podcast, his name is Matt Chan. And Matt and I are good friends, we go back some 40 years. Matt's claim to fame is that he was the guy that created Hoarders, the reality television series that is still running on cable, I believe it's on A&E. Anyway, Matt and I had been talking about the possibility of doing a podcast. And also we have a couple of other friends.
All of us worked together at King television in Seattle, King 5, and we stay connected. And during the lockdown, we started having Friday afternoon Zoom calls just to stay connected. And one of our buddies had actually moved to Peru. And so we we were checking in on him. And in the course of doing that course, we rant about everything and our language isn't always the cleanest, but we just thought, you know, why don't we take some of this and do a podcast together.
So we talked about it, talked about and talked about. And then one night, I just sent him a text message and I said, Okay, how about this title? Chino y Chicano. He's Chinese American, I'm Mexican American. I kind of kiddingly call him the Chino every now and then and, and so being a second generation Mexican American, Chicano was a term that was very, very much used as I was in high school and in college. So we thought, Okay, why don't we try it?
We did a trial run of just the two of us. And we put it out there, and it got a lot of reaction. And so we thought, okay, let's do this. So we started that, I think it was right after the first of the year, January 2021. And we've been doing it since. That's how it came to be.
But the other thing that we wanted to do, we both agreed upon was that we didn't want to code switch, meaning that, you know, for people of color, oftentimes, when you are in a White world, you might talk differently. You know, a lot of African Americans know this, but also even as Latino, I know that when I'm kind of with my people and other people of color, we relax, we talk a little bit more to the point about what we experience. So we didn't want to do that we wanted to be blunt about who we are, and what our concerns are, where we're coming from. And we wanted to hear from other people who would talk the same way, you know, pull no punches, that type of thing. And we can't guarantee that that's going to happen with every guest. But that's what we decided to do.
And so we you know, we started with some of the folks that we did television with for a long time about their experiences in journalism and working in the business, and the ups and downs and how COVID and also the racial reckoning had changed things. And you know, I'm a product of the '60s, and I was born in the '50s, but really the '60s, and you know, the civil rights movement in late '60s, early '70s. So, you know, I go back to that. And just we wanted to note the things that have changed, the things we experience. And also we wanted to include the voices of today, people that have gone through the same thing, but also those young people too, that are trying to make a difference in what our world today which is pretty challenging.
So far, who have been some of your memorable guests and what have been some of those memorable discussions?
Well, we opened up with Lori Matsukawa, who was a longtime anchor at King 5 television news. Lori is a good friend of mine actually we cohosted a show together for nine seasons, nine years, at KCTS called Celebrate the Differences. That goes back to what they called "minority affairs" shows, in which we were highlighting issues and people in the communities of color. And we started with Lori, who actually had retired last June, just to talk about her experiences through the years and to open up about the challenges that she faced just to be in that role of a main anchor. She had to really hang in there to get that position, because they kept wanting to put other people in there, white women--not to say that the white women who I know that work those jobs aren't good journalists. But you know, Lori had proven herself as a reporter and an anchor and yet there was still this doubt about making her the main coanchor for King 5 and just sort of all the politics and even the community getting involved to make sure that that was going to happen. So she shared that story with us. She shared those experiences with us, which I think was eye opening because I knew about it. And Matt also knew about it as well. But I don't think a lot of people in the community knew about it.
So we started with Lori. There was another anchor and longtime consumer reporter, Connie Thompson, at KOMO, the ABC station. She experienced many of the same things with COVID going on. We talked to Dr. Julian Perez, who was a physician at Sea Mar, which is a community health center that serves a large Latino population. And we also talked about the fact that he got COVID as he was treating people and you know, the challenges of reaching out to the Latino community. But at the same time, suddenly the scare that he had in that he he got COVID as well.
We also talked to a young woman that I featured in a documentary that I produced when I was a KCTS in 2013. It was called Latinos: The Changing Face of Washington, in which we looked at how Latinos are making their mark and Washington state largest ethnic group in the state and looking at how they came in to be political force, educational force, and all these things in our state. Jessica Esparza was a young woman she had been brought here without documentation by her parents when she was 11 years old. She is a Dreamer and a DACA recipient. And she wanted to be a nurse. And so through the years, all in the documentary, I told her story of coming here to America, which she experienced the challenges her desire to become a nurse. And then I continued to follow her even after I did the documentary, and saw her actually become a DACA recipient, saw her finish her nursing school and graduate saw her as she became an ICU nurse at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee, where she continues to work now. She works in the ICU with COVID patients and risking her own life. And so we talked to her about the challenges that she faced. And it was very emotional, because she talked, you know, about the fact that in some cases, she saw people die, and they never had a chance to be with their family at the end, and just how much that also drained her. And you can imagine all the healthcare workers have experienced the same thing. And at the same time, she's a DACA recipient during the Trump years facing whether she's going to be able to stay in this country. And, you know, the Supreme Court ruling as it has. And so it was very emotional. And I think also timely because of what's happening in the country. So I think that that was a really important conversation.
We also just recently talked to Rick Shankman, who's the author and historian about voter suppression in the country, which is alive and well, and very much a concern in the coming elections. And it's a real threat to our democracy. So we've had some, I think, very interesting, fascinating guests, some not always hard issues.
We've had some fun with people that have been in the acting world and others that just we have shared their journey and the challenges they face, particularly as people of color in a world that is still challenged for us. You know, our country is a great country. But the fact is, is that people of color have not always been treated equally. And that continues. I grew up in the Yakima Valley in a small town, outside a small town called Wapato. My parents came here in 1946 as immigrants from Mexico, my eldest sister, two older brothers were just you know, little kids. My sister, I think was three and I think my brother Pete was two, my other brother was six months old. My father had spent some time in the states and then went back to Mexico. My mom came here, my mom, it was a complete different experience. You know, she came here not knowing the language and just the cultural change and all of that learning English. She had been a teacher in Mexico, valued education deeply. My dad was a farmer. But you know, we worked as foreign people, farmworkers, to farming. And that was our kind of way of life and how we as a family, all work together to make a living and to succeed in life and trying to reach that American dream thing. The valley, Yakima Valley, in central eastern Washington has its challenges there. Racism has been alive and well there. And I'm sure it continues now in different ways.
In those two podcasts, we talked about the things that we experienced. I went to Washington State, and I was very fortunate that going to school there, I had some challenges. But I managed to overcome that adversity. I had some people that backed me and supported me when I was in the communications department and helped me get my first job in Seattle. I spent my career in Seattle. WSU was a lifesaver for me. It actually set my career path. That's why I'm so dedicated to the university. That's why I'm so happy and proud to be a regent. Now, I hope I can give back.
But also the challenges just being in a career where they're not, at the time that we started, there weren't a lot of people of color being taken seriously, trying to do good enough work so you're respected, trying to just kind of beat like anybody else. But there were challenges there, particularly when you're working with a vast majority of a white management and and all of these types of things. But I also felt that during the time, when I got that opportunity to cover issues of communities of color, as I did when I worked in King through Celebrate the Differences and through other things I did. And when I went to KCTS, I did a lot of documentaries that focused on communities of color and continued to do that work. That was, I felt the responsibility to do that. And I wanted to do that.
So I was able to do kind of cover the mainstream of things because I was able to, you know, do work for the news, our PBS Newshour and other PBS national programs, as well as covering things in our communities and sometimes covering those issues for people of color that also were affecting our entire nation, from immigration, those types of things. Especially, I feel very fortunate in that I had a chance to do that.
And even now I'm, you know, retired kind of semi-, because I still do other things, I still try to give back in my way to the community, I still think it's an important thing to do, especially now, since we have so many challenges right now. And we're so divided, which sometimes boggles my mind about how divided we are. And actually, it saddens me really, but I know as a regent that who I just I'm dedicated to those young people, particularly in communities of color, and all the students at WSU to get a good education, but also have an opportunity to get an education. But we also need to protect those students. In this time of a pandemic, we're trying to do everything we can to make sure that following a mask mandate, to getting vaccinations, which I truly believe in, I believe in the science, and I have a tough time with those folks that don't.
As a regent, what are some of the biggest issues that WSU faces today? And how can you use your role to keep working for people and students of color?
Overall, you know, part of our job as regents is to make sure that our finances are in order and trying to make sure that we're dealing with all of those things. Those are always ongoing issues for education, higher education, and that's always a challenge. We have a responsibility of making sure that the ship is trying to keep balance in that respect.
I think our biggest challenge right now, obviously, is the pandemic and how we deal with all of that. I mean, suddenly, students are trying to protect them and make sure that those students that were and on campus that, you know, kind of reality check and some common sense about, you know, gatherings and things like that. I know, they're young people that want to have a good time and all that stuff. But you have to also be smart. It's a pandemic people, and it's worldwide. And we have a severe health crisis going on right now. We're trying our best to keep those young people safe. That's our duty, not only administration, but I think the regent's as well making sure that happens.
And at the same time making sure you know, those students that come from those underserved communities are still having their opportunity to go to a school like WSU, making sure that they have an opportunity to you know, get to the classes and know how to contribute and do their studies online. And what they need to do that and making sure that the university can provide them a laptop to do those things. I think WSU has been in the lead in how we managed to do all of that, but we continue to have a lot of work to do, to make sure that, you know, those students that need them to be able to get the education they need, will have that opportunity. It's not just at the main campus, and we were talking the Tri-Cities, we're talking in Vancouver and Spokane. We have a lot of responsibility to those kids and that, to me, is the most important thing. And we're challenged, we're really challenged right now. And again, I'm just hopeful that the young people will do what's necessary to get vaccinated. I think what's important here is that think about not just the fact that it's not just about them. It's about other people, it's about their loved ones, it's about their friends. Let's not be selfish about that. So let's think about the greater good of things. So let's make sure that you get vaccinated people take care of themselves and wear your mask as needed.
How have things changed for people of color, since the police killing of George Floyd and the protests and then the marches in support of Black Lives Matter, that took place in that in the aftermath of that event? How have things changed in our country, for people of color? And what you've seen in in your experience? Is there a reason to remain hopeful and optimistic?
I think we're challenged, no doubt about it. I think that things are fluid when George Floyd was killed. And people saw that cross country and around the world, it was good to see people react and say "enough," and good to see people from all walks of life saying enough. It was troubling that there were protests that also broke out in violence. Some of that, I think, you know, sometimes you get, unfortunately, a bit hijacked, some of the messages, and that people that are really looking to cause damage and no good. So that's still a challenge as well.
It was good to see young people come to life to say that, you know, we're not going to let this happen, and we're not going to just stand down. My big concern is for that energy, the positive energy, for it to lose, its power. I think it's an important thing that we need to make sure we're not going to let that die down. I think there are some tremendous issues we have to face right now.
I would have to say my biggest concern for this country is that our democracy is really facing some huge challenges. I'd say the voter suppression efforts that are being carried out by states controlled by Republican legislatures, that through the south, Midwest, other places that are putting barriers for people, particularly people of color to vote, we better be worried about that. Because that, you know, that is part of our democracy. And that could create some serious concerns for the state of our democracy going forward. And we really need, if necessary, to hit the streets to worry about that. And to protest any efforts to make sure to try to prohibit us, it's not just people of color, it's white people, it's everywhere. That, you know, your right to vote is at stake here. And people are messing with that. So we can't let that happen.
And then I think, you know, of course, we've talked about the pandemic. And I will reiterate again, that we need to do what's necessary to get it under control. And it's a challenge. But we are so deeply divided. I know that people want the personal choices and all of these things. But the fact is, we're not going to get a hold of this unless we work together in some sense of unified effort to to get a hold of this. So come on, find your common sense, folks. So for me, for people of color, there are plenty of challenges there. I think that but I also think it scares a lot of White people. But the fact is, is that our demographics are changing. I mean, we saw this in the last census, that the percentage of White people in America is going down. But we're Americans. And the fact is, that we are a great country that has, you know, managed to handle a lot of things not always perfectly. But let's also address the things that we have not done right. The racism and our past have been very much a part of the nation's history. And let's make sure that we understand what happened in the past is something that we're not going to tolerate for the future. And I think as people of color we're going to make sure that that's not going to happen. But lots of challenges for everybody, but I try to keep positive about this because you know, I want to be hopeful. I want to be hopeful for the country in the future. I have children. I want the best for my grandson and hoping, you know, he's gonna have an opportunity to succeed in being a great country as well. And maybe go to WSU, we'll see. [Janovich] It's your kid. [Cerna] Yeah, I hope so. I've already got in onesies and stuff. Cool onesie.
Do you think we've lost some of that momentum?
I think it has changed somewhat. We have to work hard to not let that fire and that need to make change come about in a positive way. So yeah, you know, things ebb and flow. And that's why it's fluid. I also think that we need to seriously look at kind of what's happening in the country and do what's necessary to fight for equality. I don't have a great answer for how we bridge our divisions. Again, I come back to this whole thing about what do we want that's best for this country? What is the best for our young people coming up? How are we going to balance things out to give them the opportunities, you know, for us to continue to maintain our greatness as a country? And I think we need to chill out a little bit. There's a lot of just venom a lot of times and hate will get you nowhere. I don't want to sound a little you know, hackneyed or anything, but we could use a little nice little love, the better angels side of us need to step up?
Well, that's a great kind of segue into my next question about how can White people show support? And how can White people step up and be good allies?
I think two ways. Number one, is be open to listening. Actually, that's something all of us need to do. We need to listen. And it the chill out thing, I think is a really important part. I also think we need to take this good, strong look at our history in this country. And try to understand that because this was a country that was really created by White men who dominated, you know, the direction and White privilege was there, to understanding what that really means and understanding how that affects other people.
I think, you know, we're seeing more and more of people, you know, blended families. I come from a larger Mexican American family, that's our base. But we have a lot of interracial marriages. And we have, we're a big salad bowl, I like to call it, because marriage is where we have African Americans and we have Asians and we're kind of all blended together. And it's a matter of accepting each other and trying to understand and learning about each other's culture, and taking the best things from those things. But I think it's important to learn what our mistakes this country is made with, there's a lot of mistakes every country has, those issues, dark, dark past, understand that and try to figure out, okay, how do we make it better.
And I think for White people to understand that, you know, people of color aren't here trying to say that we want to take their life away from them or anything like that. Just want to have an opportunity to be treated equally, and to, you know, have the same opportunities other people have. So I think encouraging people to look at our past, study it, try to understand that, and then try to apply it in your families and in your dealings in life. Because it is going to change, I guarantee you.
What advice do you have for broadcast students of color, hoping to get into the TV news business or pursuing careers and TV news?
I want them to understand that it's a tough business. It's a satisfying business, you can do some real great work and interesting things. But expect to be challenged, expect to have to work hard. I also would encourage young people of color that want to be journalists, in the next generation, to also know what you're getting into. You're gonna go into a news operation, ask them about what is their commitment to equity and to equality and to covering those issues like immigration and other issues that are really potent issues in our communities, so that they know that you have an opportunity to contribute and do some good work. And for newsrooms, and for managers to understand, tap those people that have knowledge of, you know, that are Latino, that have an ability to speak Spanish, they bring something to your user that you might not have had before. I hate to say that we're, you know, I've been saying this for God knows how long, but this is a constant battle. But for young people, I understand that you're going to need to work. You're going to be challenged, but if you love it, just keep at it. It'll be a grind. But if you love it enough, you're going to stick with it.
Anything else you want to explore today? Anything you thought I would ask that I haven't, that would be important for alumni to to hear about?
WSU is a real special place because we're tucked away there in a small town and in eastern Washington. And also I think we're always fighting for our respect. If I hadn't gone to WSU, I would not have had a 40-plus year career in broadcast journalism. It was because of the people that believed in me there. That gave me the opportunity. That place means the world to me. I just hope that young people that go there, and all those that are alumni, that you continue to have that feeling and you take that appreciation and never lose it, because it is special.
Thanks for listening to Viewscapes.
Read more about Cerna's life and work in "Talk the walk" in the Fall 2021 issue at magazine.wsu.edu.
His podcast, Chino Y Chicano, can be heard on major podcast directories.
A big thank you to Greg Yasinitsky for our theme music.