Earlier, poet Richard Blanco became the nation’s first Hispanic and openly gay poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Blanco’s journey to that moment was an unlikely one — an immigrant raised in a Cuban-exile community in Miami, he learned how to be American by watching U.S. sitcoms. And he had to come to terms with his queer identity despite having a grandmother who was, “as xenophobic as she was homophobic. … Convinced that I was queer … she was verbally and psychologically abusive because she was also convinced she could make me a ‘real’ man.” Nonetheless, he says negotiating his identity as an American and a gay man is a “wellspring of my poetry,” and a good metaphor for what America is today — “a nation of hope still trying to find its own identity.”
In an article on CNN.com, he shares his thoughts on being named the inauguration’s poet laureate, and offers a glimpse into his background, saying,
Being named poet laureate for the inauguration personally validates and stitches together several ideals against which I have long measured America, since the days of watching My Three Sons and The Dick Van Dyke Show reruns. For one, the essence of the American dream: how a little Cuban-American kid on the margins of mainstream America could grow up with confidence, have the opportunity to become an engineer thanks to the hard work of his parents who could barely speak English, and then go on, choosing to become a poet who is now asked to speak to, for and about the entire nation.
The most powerful quality of our country is that each day is full of a million possibilities: We are a country of fierce individualism, which invites me to shape my life as I see fit. As I reflect on this, I see how the American story is in many ways my story — a country still trying to negotiate its own identity, caught between the paradise of its founding ideals and the realities of its history, trying to figure it out, trying to “become” even today — the word “hope” as fresh on our tongues as it ever was.
Regardless of my cultural, socioeconomic background and my sexuality, I have been given a place at the table, or more precisely, at the podium, because that is America.