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Friday, 07 December 2012 00:00

Life as a Hispanic officer

Written by Katherine Fernandez
Frank Cedillo describes life as the first Hispanic law-enforcement officer in Greene County, Tenn. Frank Cedillo describes life as the first Hispanic law-enforcement officer in Greene County, Tenn. Katherine Fernandez

After a long journey, 22-year-old Frank Cedillo has succeeded in becoming the first Hispanic deputy sheriff in Greene County.  

His dreams had to start somewhere, and that was with his father, Guadalupe Cedillo, who was a military man and police officer in Mexico.

 “My family were migrant farmers, or workers. They moved around place to place finding the crops,” Cedillo said.

His father moved his family to Tennessee when Cedillo was very young. Guadalupe Cedillo was helping out a farmer, Hugh Allen Jones, when he decided to continue to live in Greene County (below is a view from the family home in Camp Creek). His decision was made so that, according to Cedillo, “we could grow up locally and know the people and grow up from there, so our school work wouldn’t miss out any and we could actually get an education.”

camp.creekCedillo graduated from East Tennessee State University in December with degrees in criminal justice and Spanish.

Both of his parents are Mexican. His father is from Picacho and his mother, Bertha Cedillo, is from Guerrero. Cedillo and his four brothers did not learn to speak English until they got to kindergarten.

According to the website of the United States Census Bureau, only 2.6 percent of Greene County’s population was Hispanic or Latino in 2011.

The Cedillo boys did have some trouble adjusting.

“You’re going to run into people who don’t like you or your kind,” said Cedillo. “School wasn’t that bad. You had your bullies or kids that didn’t like you, but the sports guys ….would normally take up for you. It all evened out.”

Cedillo realized he wanted to be a police officer one day when he and his brother, Eddie, were watching the movie “Bad Boys.”

“We decided we wanted to do the whole FBI-stuff-type deal. So, it just sort of randomly happened and we just sort of had fallen into that. And the fact that I was named after a police officer, Frank Waddell, and I guess he just helped out my family a lot and it all built up from there,” Cedillo said.

Eddie is also a Greene County sheriff's deputy. Now their brother, Andrew, is also considering entering law enforcement, according to Frank and Eddie. It seems to run in the family.

Cedillo’s parents are the people who inspire him and motivate him the most in his life.

“They have always been behind us 100 percent no matter what we do, the sports we take or everything,” Cedillo said.

Of course, being a Hispanic deputy with the Greene County Sheriff’s Department seems to have its advantages and disadvantages. Cedillo says that he does have trouble from those who think they will get special treatment from him because he is Mexican.

“They think they deserve help from me, I guess. Like if they get pulled over they think I’m going to go there and either void everything out or help them minimize the damage they’re going to do ... I guess they don’t understand that my job is to follow it to the extent of the law and I can’t help them out,” Cedillo said.

Profiling, or assuming someone acts a certain way because of race or ethnicity, is something people accuse officers of doing. Cedillo disagrees.

“A lot of them think that they profile, but the truth of the matter is that we don’t pull them over for being Hispanic. We pull them over because they break the law. I guess they see it one way and we see it the other and everyone is going to interpret it differently.”

Along with being an avid follower of the laws, Cedillo is a family man. There is not a very large space between he and his brothers in regards to age.

Between tomato fights, chucking rotten hot peppers at one another and buying and using old go-carts until they run dead, the brothers hold a tight bond.

“We always fight, but two or three hours in you’re laughing again. It wasn’t anything that you hold for years or no long-time grudge,” Frank said.

Frank recalled a time when they were all around 3 to 5 years old. They would tell their mother they were going swimming after a big rain storm. Then they would proceed to jump and splash around in the mud puddles.

“I looked up to him because they always took care of me on the farm and stuff,” said Eddie, pictured below with his brother. “He always guides me what to do through school and helps me on my stuff when I need help.”

Cedillo brothers

Frank does his best to help out all of his brothers and anyone else he can. He was described as lucky, brave and loving by Eddie. His brother Andrew also had great things to say about his older brother, Frank.

“He's an outgoing guy,” Andrew said. “He will go out of his way to help others. He usually always helps us with stuff college-related since he is the first to fully graduate from one.” 

Along with being close to his family in Tennessee, Cedillo is somewhat familiar with his relatives in Mexico.

“There’s a lot of people,” he said. “We know them. We’ve met them two or three times, but they don’t really like us because we were born here in the U.S. They … exile you or don’t accept you because you were born here and not there.”

But Cedillo and his family do not fret over the situation. He focuses on his future goals, which are going to start taking place very soon after graduation.

Cedillo plans to move once he finishes getting his degrees and join Border Patrol. After about a year, he wants to transfer to the Drug Enforcement Administration or the FBI.

“I want to work, I think they said 25 years, and then I can retire, since I have been working three years now … I want to just travel, I guess. Save up and then just take off and see the world,” Cedillo said.

At one point, he actually considered not finishing his degree and continuing his work on the farm, but his dad changed his mind. He wants his sons to live a better life, with money and opportunity that he never had.

After looking back on his past, and going through what he wants for the future, Frank had one final thought about how much fun he has had with his family up to this point. Looking toward his future, and moving away soon, he realized he wouldn’t be with them all the time anymore.

“We had a lot of fun, but it’s getting towards the end, I guess.”

Growing up in Camp Creek: Bertha, Andrew, Eddie, Vicente, Frank, Guadalupe and Austin Cedillo on the farm in an undated family photo. Courtesy of Frank Cedillo. 

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