Washington, D.C. – Richard Blanco delivered his poem at the Second Inaugural Swearing-in Ceremony of President Barack Obama on the threshold of a new era for the descendants of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Gay people make a great stride forward today with our poet leading the way: the youngest Inaugural Poet in the nation’s history, a Cuban-American, and an openly gay man. With this groundbreaking cultural and literary event, Richard Blanco, at the behest of President Obama, has inaugurated a new dignity and impetus for LGBTQ Americans, and ushers us along the path to becoming a People: diverse, empowered, graced, and maturing into the full equality of national citizenship. This is one step in a long journey, and no one must be fooled into a sense of ease or rest on a bed of laurels. But nonetheless we have lived to hear the voice of Our People ring out openly and unhindered across the great mall of the National City, and we have every right and reason to be proud. Gracias, querido Richard! Muchísimas gracias!
Here is the poem in its entirety (video of Blanco’s delivery of the poem available here):
Washington, D.C. – The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that poet Richard Blanco is President Obama’s choice for his Second Inauguration–a gay of Cuban extraction who was shamed by his own family for being gay. In one historic move, President Obama has chosen the first gay man, the first Latino, and the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. According to Huffington Post, Blanco will recite a poem at the presidential swearing-in ceremony on the U.S. Capitol steps on January 21.
“I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude,” Blanco responded to the announcement. “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 is the son of Cuban exiles who fled to Madrid, where he was born. The family moved first to New York City, but then settled eventually in Miami, where Blanco was reared and educated. He now lives in Bethel, Maine with his life partner. Politico tells the story of the price he paid as a gay person in Latino culture–even in his own family. Cross currents of cultural identity–Cuban-American and gay–threatened to sweep him into depression or worse. Politico highlights Blanco’s essay, “Afternoons with Endora,” that appeared in the 2009 anthology, “My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them,” where Blanco describes himself as “a boy who hated being a boy.” As a child, Blanco says he retreated from playing sports to his notebooks, writing and drawing; that he much preferred women’s Tupperware Parties to Clint Eastwood movies.
His grandmother lashed out at Blanco for being gay, calling her own grandson “the shame of the family,” and “little faggot.”
“According to her,” Blanco wrote, “I was a no-good sissy — un mariconcito — the queer shame of the family. And she let me know it all the time: ‘Why don’t we just sign you up for ballet lessons? Everyone thinks you’re a girl on the phone — can’t you talk like a man? I’d rather have a granddaughter who’s a whore than a grandson who is a faggot like you.’”
“Her constant attacks made me an extremely self-conscious and quiet child,” Blanco wrote of his grandmother. “But it also made me a keen observer of the world around me, because my interior world was far too painful. This inadvertently led me to become a writer, a recorder of images and details.” Seeking refuge from his family’s harsh, anti-gay nagging, young Blanco would secretly dress up in his own room as Endora, the magical character from the hit television show Bewitched, and pretend he lived in a world without queer shame. “I wanted to be as powerful as [Endora], and for a little while every afternoon I was,” he wrote. “I could conjure up thunderstorms so I wouldn’t have to go to baseball practice…I could concoct love potions that would make me like girls instead of boys and make my grandmother love me.”
It is a testimony to Blanco’s strength of character and web of supportive friends that he rose above queer shame to become one of the premier poets of this era, a rise that caught the attention of President Barack Obama. The President said, “I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural. 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.”
Achy Obejas, a commentator for WBEZ.org, reflects on the significance of Blanco’s selection as Inaugural Poet, and upon his reasons for crying for joy when he heard of the pick: “The President of the United States, the most powerful man on earth, has chosen a guy you know — a fag, a cubiche who likes to joke that he was made in the U.S. with Cuban parts, with whom you codeswitch about Miyami and lechón and our mamis — to consecrate this moment in history with his — our — words.
“And you nod and grin through your stupid tears because you know — you really know — that damn arch really does bend, it really does indeed point to a shinier day.”
Blanco has had a distinguished teaching career at Georgetown, American, and Central Connecticut State universities. His award-winning books of poetry include City of a Hundred Fires, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh, and Directions to The Beach of the Dead, which won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award.
When Richard Blanco mounts the podium on Inauguration Day with the whole world watching, they will see a cubiche, no longer un mariconcito–but a spokesperson for all LGBTQ people whose longings are rising above the challenges of discrimination to the heights of full citizenship. “Felicidades, querido Richard,” indeed!