Cuban-American Richard Blanco paid homage to the American experience in a poem he recited at the 57th Presidential Inauguration Monday, as the first Hispanic, openly gay and youngest person to be chosen as the inaugural poet.
Blanco recited 'One Today,' a poem that paints vivid scenes about America and includes reflections on his experience growing up as a son of Cuban exiles in New York City and Miami. Blanco, who is 44 years old, joined the ranks of legends like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost by being given the presidential honor.
Blanco's whole experience as inaugural poet was posted on his Facebook page. He posted a photo of his partner, Mark, who joined Blanco for his special day, a picture of him practicing at the inaugural podium, as well as photos with actor Wilmer Valderrama and television anchor Jorge Ramos.
Blanco's poem evoked images of a day in America through the Great Lakes, Great Plains, fruit stands, traffic lights and silver trucks heavy with oil or paper.
He mentioned his mother, a grocery store worker for 20 years. He touched on his Latino culture saying in Spanish, "Buenos Días." He mentioned the "last floor on [Miami's] Freedom Tower, jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience." And even the tragedy at Newtown.
"All of us as vital as the one light we move through, the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day... or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain the empty desks of 20 children marked absent today, and forever," Blanco read.
And he ended with a message of unity.
And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country – all of us –
facing the stars
hope – a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it – together
Blanco’s selection came on the heels of a presidential election in which Latinos played a critical role, turning out at a record rate — about 10 percent of voters who cast ballots on Nov. 6 were Hispanic and about 71 percent of Latino voters picked Obama over his GOP challenger.
“His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity,” Obama said in a statement.
When Blanco was selected, he said he was "brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude.”
“In many ways, this is the very stuff of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story —America’s story, really. I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry.”
Blanco’s works explore his family's exile and "the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man," the inaugural planners said.
Blanco was born in Spain to a mother who worked as a bank teller and a father who was a bookkeeper.
The New York Times said in a story about the poet that he was named after Richard Nixon, admired by Blanco’s father because of the Republican president’s strong opposition to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Blanco moved to New York City with his parents when he was an infant, and then moved to Miami, where he was raised and educated. He worked as a consultant engineer while he pursued his poetry, and in 1999 joined the creative writing faculty at Central Connecticut State University until 2001. He later taught in various places, including American and Georgetown universities.
The inaugural committee noted that “Blanco's career as an English-language Latino poet gained momentum when his first collection, ‘City of a Hundred Fires,’ won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh.”
His second book of poetry, “Directions to The Beach of the Dead,” won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award. His third collection, “Looking for The Gulf Motel,” was published in 2012.
Today, Blanco lives in Bethel, Maine, where he serves on various town committees.
On his Twitter page, he notes: “From Spain to Cuba to Miami to Connecticut to D.C. back to Miami and finally MAINE. Yes, a Cuban boy can be happy in the cold."