by Ronnie Estoque
Matt Chan and Enrique Cerna are award-winning storytellers with decades of experience in the television industry. They met in 1978 when they both worked at KING 5, and have maintained a strong bond that has lasted nearly 45 years. While they worked within different capacities over their careers and only rarely collaborated, they decided in 2020 to join forces and to create Chino Y Chicano, a podcast that centers the stories of People of Color living in Seattle.
Cerna, who earned nine Northwest Regional Emmy Awards as a local broadcast journalist, calls himself “semi-retired” today, because he still does some producing, hosting, and moderating and serves as a Washington State University Regent. Chan has been retired from managing his own television production company, Screaming Flea Productions, for 10 years, but still teaches at the University of Washington Communications Leadership graduate program.
Cerna developed the initial idea for the podcast and reached out to Chan about recording a pilot episode, which was previewed in December 2020. By January, they decided to produce a weekly episode.
Their years of experience in broadcasting greatly aided their production process as they invested in professional microphones and platforms that would reach podcast audiences. The two media veterans have each utilized their own skill sets for the project. Chan focuses on recording and editing and understands the importance of audience engagement. Cerna focuses on the content and stories.
Over the years, the two have been able to develop relationships with a diverse array of people across the city. They’ve tapped into this network for many of the guests on their show and aim to keep the episodes as conversational as possible.
“The biggest thing is to get people to just relax and say what they want to say about things because there are no real big limits,” Cerna said. “Some of our most listened to podcasts have been just kind of everyday folks, you would never know, but they have a unique story.”
No Code-Switching Necessary
Chino y Chicano is closing in on 5,000 downloads, and is available on all the major podcasting platforms. The hosts say that a goal of their podcast is to create a space where participants don’t have to worry about code-switching, which is something they both had to deal with throughout their careers.
“In both [of our work] experiences, we’d be in totally white environments with white people. And there may be one other Brown person there,” Chan said. And those were the people Chan and Cerna would gravitate toward, he said, because they felt comfortable speaking to them without having to code-switch. Now, they see the podcast is a magnified version of that experience.
Cerna grew up in Yakima. His father was a farmer. Being a reporter was not the expectation for his life trajectory. When he began college at Washington State University, he didn’t consider himself academically gifted, but he enrolled in a communications class freshman year that changed his life.
“And then I knew that I wanted to become a reporter, and that became my passion,” Cerna said. “I was pretty good at telling stories about people, [especially] people that had faced great odds and that had good stories to tell.”
Cerna acknowledges that he had to deal with several challenges being in an industry that was predominantly white and lacked diversity. He, Chan, and other colleagues of color he worked with over the years had to blaze their own path within the media landscape. In February 2018, Cerna retired from his role as senior correspondent at Cascade Public Media’s KCTS 9 after being there for 23 years. Prior to that he had also worked as a reporter, producer, and host for KOMO radio and television.
“I think the biggest challenge was always to get people to acknowledge you and build some respect with them,” Cerna said. “We just didn’t have enough mentors or anybody to go to, so we [were] on our own.”
Both Chan and Cerna leaned on each other for support during various moments within their careers when conflicts within their workplaces would arise. Their bond has remained consistent over the years, which is evident through their ability to create a lighthearted and inviting space for their show guests.
Chan’s career as a television producer included helping to create hits like A&E’s “Hoarders,” which was renewed with the network for 13 seasons, and landed him a spot as one of the few People of Color on Hollywood Reporter’s “Top 50 Reality Power Producers” list in 2011. He also has experience serving on the board of directors at KCTS. Even so, he felt the challenges of working in a majority white industry.
“You couldn’t really voice outrage, because you’d lose your job … I think a lot of young people don’t realize that the reason it was so hard is because you had no choices,” Chan said. “People were racist … and you just made a calculation: Do I walk away? Or do I fight through it? Because if you fight through long enough, you will be in a position to make a difference.”
Chan remembers making movies back in middle school, but fully identified his passion for storytelling once he became a student at the University of Oregon. After a year and a half as a science major, he realized that he didn’t share the same excitement his peers had for the subject matter. He switched his major, and said he felt lucky that, as a third-generation Chinese American, his parents didn’t pressure him into a specific career. Chan was recently appointed by Mayor Bruce Harrell to be his special advisor for Community Engagement and Digital Strategy.
“I just decided to follow my passion and it served me well,” Chan said.
Adding BIPOC Voices to the Seattle Discourse
During difficult times in his career, Cerna explained that he found support through his friends and family, especially his sister. Cerna ultimately chose to not leave the Seattle broadcasting market, and noted that the racism he has experienced and observed in Seattle is not as overt as other places across the U.S.
“And that’s very Seattle, in a way … that kind of under the radar type of racism, which can really play in your mind,” Cerna said.
One of their favorite podcast episodes they’ve recorded so far included their friend, Eugene Tagawa, who worked at KING 5 for more than 30 years as a graphic artist. Their episode dove into Tagawa’s impact on the Chinatown-International District (CID), as he and his sister Kathy were the creators of the iconic slogan “Hum Bows Not Hot Dogs!,” which has been used over the years as a rallying chant to fight predatory neighborhood development across the city. He also served as a community photographer, taking iconic pictures of various protests and moments of activism in CID. The episode also describes Tagawa’s annual pilgrimage to Minidoka, where he was incarcerated as a baby with his family during World War II. Tagawa honors his family history by visiting every year.
“He was born on his way to the camps. A lot of our friends didn’t know about that,” Cerna said.
So far, Cerna and Chan have been able to connect with guests virtually via Zoom but hope to eventually record their podcasts in person once the pandemic ends. For now, they continue to elevate the stories of POC in the Seattle community in hopes that those who tune in will learn something.
“[We want] to contribute something to the discourse that makes the world a little bit better,” Chan said.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: Co-hosts of “Chino Y Chicano” podcast Matt Chan (left) and Enrique Cerna (right). (Photos: Ronnie Estoque)
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