Obama inauguration poet’s journey home

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

When Richard Blanco figured out how to write about his sexuality, his homophobic grandmother — who said Fruit Loops and Cub Scouts were gay things — began to appear in his poetry.

“Everyone has someone like my grandmother in their family, someone who means well who is constantly cutting you up,” the first openly gay inaugural poet said Tuesday night at Paepke Auditorium.

Blanco’s grandmother was the inspiration for “Queer Theory According to My Grandmother,” one of several poems read by Blanco, who also became the first Latino inaugural poet during Obama’s 2013 inauguration. Throughout the night, the 45-year-old detailed his life growing up in Cuba, Spain and the U.S., and his search for home.

Born to Cuban exile parents in Madrid, Blanco joked that he was “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and shipped to the U.S.” His mother, who says her son should pay royalties for all the inspiration she’s given him, is one person who helped him find that answer. In his poem “Mother County,” it is she who tells him, “It isn’t where you’re born that matters. It’s where you choose to die. That’s your country.”

Blanco resides in Bethel, Maine, where he also works as a consultant engineer. He said that while he has to manipulate 3-D landscapes at his day job, he has to navigate a 2-D, virtual, emotional landscape through poetry.

The author of “For All of Us, One Today,” a poetic memoir, Blanco described poetry as a mirror, that both he and the reader are looking into as they stand next to each another.

“Who amongst us in the audience hasn’t asked ourselves, ‘Where do I belong? Where am I from? What is paradise? What is home?’,” Blanco asked the crowd of about 100 who attended the Aspen Writer’s Foundation event.

Moving from New York to Miami as a child, Blanco said he was caught between two worlds: Cuba of the 1950s and 60s and the America he saw on the television series “The Brady Bunch.” He explained how his mother left Cuba and all her relatives, never to look back. Then he asked the audience to imagine themselves getting on a plane in Aspen today and leaving the U.S. forever.

“Her story is about courage, but more so about faith, the faith that she had in this country to be able to do that,” he said. “My mother is more an American than I could ever be. She has more faith in this country than I will ever have in some ways.”

Blanco’s search for home ended on Jan. 21, 2013, during the inauguration, as he read, “One Today.”

“The greatest gift of the inauguration was actually finally finding a home, the acceptance of the idea of who I was, reading that poem to America, for America,” he said, “the idea that I was home all along, that my story, my mother’s story, your story, all of our stories are the American story.”