American LifeLegal Alien

Richard Blanco, a presidential poet that breaks the mold

By Jeannie Rivera Jan 11, 2013 7:39AM

Richard Blanco’s poetry drips hispanidad. The experience of being a Latino in the U.S. is the bilingual, dark-haired Muse of most of his poems. His writing is clever, often funny and determined to deliver straight-to-the-point messages. It is more concerned with content than with unnecessary window-dressing accessories like complex language and imagery.


I can’t wait to see Blanco at president’s Obama Jan. 21 inauguration.


Blanco was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain and raised in Miami. At 44 he is the first Latino and openly gay person to be selected to deliver the inaugural poem. He is also the youngest presidential poet. His selection highlights the demographic transformation of the U.S. and how this shift is enriching our cultural heritage as a nation.


The White House said it best when explaining why it chose him: “Blanco explores the collective American experience of cultural negotiation through the lens of family and love, particularly his mother’s life shaped by exile, his relationship with his father and the passing of a generation of relatives. His work also explores the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban American gay man.”


Trained and as engineer, Blanco has left his imprint on many projects in South Florida including roads, bridges and South Miami City hall. In an interview earlier this week, he said that his career choice was instigated by what he calls his exile parents’ "survival mode." They gave him three options: doctor, lawyer or engineer.


Yet he couldn’t stay away from stringing words together in poems with details as fine as those in a multi-pixel photograph. In America, for instance, he lets us in the life of a family that always has pork for Thanksgiving and at every other celebration (sounds familiar?) The rich use of simple language brings us right into the family's kitchen effortlessly.


There was always pork though,

for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day--pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted--
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and
yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's
Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in
guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything--
"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.


At the family's seven-year-old child child the family finally tries turkey. The poor bird doesn't get glowing reviews.


Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings…


Oh!, the beauty of two cultures blending in one. I hope to see it transformed into another poem at the inauguration.

About the author
  • Jeannie RiveraJeannie Rivera

    Jeannie Rivera is an independent writer and former newspaper reporter who lives in Central Florida with her family, a guitar, a few orchids and a bunch of books. She doesn't have pets and this is unlikely to change. She's penned stories for The Miami Herald, The Orlando Sentinel, BBC Mundo, AOL and others. She was raised in Puerto Rico where she learned to sing, cook good food, be a good mom and throw boisterous parties (she gets great story material from these.) She enjoys traveling, good wine, great books, her two boys and sleeping.