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Borders & Heritage

Mi Familia

April 7, 2016

In 1946, my parents Serafin and Josefa Cerna boarded a train in northern Mexico with my older siblings — Angelica, Peter and Serafin Junior — and headed for America to begin a new life.  

They traveled for four days and finally reached their destination: Toppenish, Washington. My grandparents, Tomas and Felicitas Cerna, settled there in the early '40s. At one time, my grandfather was a wealthy landowner in Mexico. But a revolution forced him to flee with his family in 1918. He crossed the border and eventually created a new life as a farmer. He was farming in Wyoming when he received a letter from two of his sons who were working the migrant stream. They told him of fertile land and opportunity in Washington State’s Yakima Valley. My grandfather decided to move the family there, purchasing a home and farm land near Toppenish.

Enrique Cerna's grandparents, Felicitas and Tomas.

My father was born in Mexico, but spent some of his early years with his family in the U.S. In his twenties, he returned to Mexico to farm property owned by my grandfather. That’s when he met my mother, who was a school teacher. They started a family and were doing well until a drought made farming extremely difficult. They decided to make the journey to America and connect with my father’s family.

After arriving in Toppenish, my father worked for my grandfather and then eventually started farming on his own. My grandparents had 20 children. Fourteen made it to adulthood. Seven of their nine sons became successful farmers.

Enrique's parents and siblings in Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandfather was small in stature, but he had the total respect of his children. You didn’t mess with him. He expected his children and grandchildren to be hard workers and good citizens.

Coming to America was not easy for my parents. They were starting over. My father spoke English, but my mother did not. She had to adjust to a new country and a new language. Since she was a school teacher in Mexico, she valued education and worked hard to learn English. But she always encouraged us to keep our Spanish because she felt it was important to be bi-lingual.

My sister Sally and I were born in Yakima. Along with our older siblings, we worked on the farm. I did not like farm work, but I came to appreciate it because it taught me a lot about hard work. It also gave me an appreciation for farmers and farm workers and what they mean to our country’s economy.

My parents became U.S. citizens in 1953, the year I was born. They were proud to be American. And they were just as proud to be Mexican. They taught us to value both cultures. I saw how hard my parents worked to give us a home, food, and a chance to make a better life for ourselves. They wanted more for us and that is why they came to America — for us to have a better life. Like so many other immigrants that came here, their story is an American story. 

SUPPORTED BY

Enrique Cerna

The son of Mexican immigrants, Enrique Cerna was born and raised in the Yakima Valley.  Enrique joined KCTS 9 in January, 1995. He has anchored current affairs programs, moderated statewide political debates, produced and reported stories for national PBS programs in addition to local documentaries on social and juvenile justice, the environment and Latinos in Washington State.

Enrique has earned nine Northwest Emmy Awards and numerous other honors. In June, 2013, he was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Northwest Chapter’s Silver Circle for his work as a television professional.

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