Richard Blanco, the country’s fifth inaugural poet, playfully says he was Made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States. He means that his mother was seven months pregnant when the family left Cuba as exiles. He was born in Madrid. Forty Five days later the family emigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Miami.
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His poetry brings together a wide range of experiences not the least of which is his Hispanic heritage and the conflicts he felt as a gay Latino man. “My grandmother was as xenophobic as she was homophobic, so I remember growing up so that anything that seemed culturally odd or weird or strange was also sort of tagged as ‘queer,” he says.
According to family lore, his staunchly anti-Casto father named him after Richard Nixon. When it was time for him to go to college he was told to choose between law, medicine and engineering. “I was a whiz at Math,” he says. So he chose civil engineering and studied at Florida International University. He spent some 25 years working on roads and bridges.
He talks about how he composed the inaugural poem and what it felt like to stand on that podium with the president and vice-president to deliver it. Here is how he described it for National Public Radio: “All along, through different stages of my relationship with America … I’ve always been sort of wondering: Where’s home? Is home America? That ideal doesn’t really exist, does it? Where’s all those sort of principals that I grew up with? And when I was up on that platform — for those two hours or so that we were up there — it was like all those ideals came to life in ways that I had never imagined.. … I really embraced America up there like I never had before, and I think I finally felt like I was home in some way. … And I turned to my mother at one moment and I told her, ‘Well, I think we’re finally American.”