Hearing that Richard Blanco had been chosen to write a poem for President Obama’s second inauguration reconfirmed for me why this president will be remembered as a transformative leader.
Blanco is a Cuban-American gay poet. His work journals the cross-cultural experiences of two minority groups — the LGBT and Latino communities — at a time when the country’s acceptance of either is divided. But there’s also something strangely indigenous about Blanco’s poems, too.
His collections includes “City of a Hundred Fires,” “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel.”
A personal favorite is a five-part poem titled America, a humorous take on family, discovery, and assimilation. This is part one:
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamà never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
Obama may have chosen Blanco purely for political expedience, a wink and a nod to two communities that strongly supported his re-election. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground: a legitimization of the Latino and LGBT experience as authentically American.
Blanco joins a small group of poets who are asked to write a poem especially for a presidential inauguration by a leader who understands that inclusiveness is more than a slogan; it’s vital to the survival of the state.