Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21

Gay rights at the forefront of Obama's inauguration

Obama’s inaugural address a few minutes ago made history, in that he linked the struggle for gay rights (Stonewall) with the women’s movement (Seneca Falls) and civil rights for black Americans (Selma). It is assumed that this speech was heard by millions, and when gay marriage and gay equality were mentioned, those words received some of the loudest cheers from the enormous crowd (the mall was at capacity, and authorities had to turn away many who were among the last to arrive).

Equality for gay Americans was mentioned several times, and the icing on the cake was a poem – “One, Today” – written and recited (just after the public swearing in) by openly gay Latino poet Richard Blanco. I had to pinch myself, because a little more than four years ago I would have thought this unimaginable. Blanco followed in the footsteps of our first inaugural poet, Robert Frost, who was chosen by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and Maya Angelou, who was chosen by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

I have already made a post about Richard Blanco, but I have since learned a little more about him. The roots of his writing began in 1968, when his parents fled Communist Cuba and went into exile in Spain. At the time, Blanco’s mother, a teacher, was pregnant with Richard, her second son. After five months in Madrid, where she gave birth to Richard, they immigrated to New York. As a boy, she said, Richard always had an interest in exploring his Cuban roots.

"I always had questions about Cuba, about the family we left there," he said. On his website he refers to himself as being “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the U.S.”

That sense of not belonging and trying to belong seeps through his books of poetry, which often feature his family and their efforts to hold on to their traditions. Richard got to visit the homeland his parents yearned for when he was growing up. His relatives, who feared he would not speak Spanish and would feel uncomfortable, were surprised when he picked yucca in the fields, jumped into the canals and danced a lot – just like everyone else.  That trip as a young man would shape the poet’s future work, in which he writes about his roots.

“I would say that poetry is the place we go to when we don't have any more words – that place that is so emotionally centered,” says Richard. “It is the place we go to when we have something that we can't quite put a finger on, that we can't explain away, that we can't easily understand with the mind. It's the reason I come to poetry as well. As I love to say in my writing classes: If you sit down totally convinced of what the poem is going to be, don't even sit down, because writing a poem is a discovery process.

I immediately found a reason for writing beyond the love of the words. I had something that I wanted to discover. All of a sudden I was twenty-something thinking: Wait a minute, I'm not as Cuban as I thought and I'm not as American either. That kind of trumped a lot of sexual identity questions.

My third book is sort of the book in which I came out of the literary closet. Its theme and topic was the intersection of these identities, or how they collided. What does it mean to be a gay Cuban man? Asking that really opened the door. It piqued my interest in that sense. And now I've been with my partner for twelve years, and I'm 44. It's almost like my mind couldn't handle negotiating both things at the same time, until this third book.

My work has to do with searching – searching within myself, but searching for what the universal experience is that poetry taps into as well.”

For the full text of Mr. Blanco's inaugural poem, visit my other blog at:

Or click on this link for video of Blanco delivering his poem during Obama’s inauguration:

Denim Monday:

Just because:

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful profile on the last pic with the Navy officer. Wow! Just beautiful ;D