Richard Blanco, Obama’s Inaugural Poet: Not Your Father’s Cuban Exile

Poet Richard Blanco, who will read at the inauguration, represents the new face of America—and Cuban-America

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image: Richard Blanco, 2013 inaugural poet.
Nico Tucci / Courtesy Richard Blanco

The title poem of Richard Blanco’s 2012 book of poetry, Looking for the Gulf Motel, is a poignantly evocative work about the memory of family. But its refrain — “There should be nothing here I don’t remember” — suggests more than Blanco probably intended now that he has been invited to read his verse at President Obama’s Inauguration next week. The gay Cuban-American immigrant’s sudden but well-deserved elevation to the national stage is a healthy reminder that demographically, America today is no longer the country we remember. And that’s the very symbolism Obama wants to convey given the 21st-century coalition that re-elected him.

But it’s also indicative of how much the Cuban community in the U.S. has changed — and how much more it may change now that the communist government in Cuba, as of this week, is letting Cubans on the island travel abroad freely for the first time in more than half a century. Both Blanco’s ascent to Maya Angelou status on this side of the Florida Straits and the Castro regime’s relaxation of its harsh travel restrictions on the opposite side — even, it appears, for dissidents — contradict each side’s image of the other. That might eventually help U.S.-Cuba relations move out of their Cold War mire and closer to the 21st century. It’s a big might, but consider nonetheless:

Blanco, 44, is not your father’s Cuban exile. He was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain after his parents bolted Fidel Castro’s revolution and brought to Miami as an infant. But while his work certainly pays homage to his family’s immigrant trials and triumphs, it views the more conservative, hard-line exile cohort of his parents’ generation — the diehards who brought us the 2000 Elián González fiasco, which caused so much Cuban-American soul-searching — with a skeptical eye. His poem “América,” a reminiscence about the anxieties of a 1970s Cuban-American Thanksgiving (roast pork or turkey?), takes a momentary but sobering detour at “… 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 least on Inauguration Day, Blanco will rival the more conservative likes of Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the new face of Cuban Americans — which would also reflect exit polls that showed Obama winning almost half of Florida’s Cuban vote in the November election, unprecedented for a Democrat. All of that belies Havana’s insistence that every Cuban American is hell-bent on invading the Bay of Pigs again, an air-raid siren the Castro dictatorship uses to keep a firm grip on power. If more Cubans visit the U.S. now under the liberalized travel rules, they’ll see for themselves that most Cuban Americans, and most of the rest of America, aren’t the rabid imperialist fascists Havana tells them we are, and they’ll take that realization back to Cuba’s streets, homes and offices.

They’ll also notice that gay citizens like Blanco are no longer social pariahs in American or even Cuban-American society — or that at least they’re not demonized the way they were in 20th century Cuba. In recent years, gay rights have improved on the island thanks in large part to Fidel’s niece, Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Fidel’s younger brother and current Cuban President, Raúl Castro, who has worked to convince Havana that macho gay bashing isn’t exactly the smartest calling card for a left-wing government.

But the Cuban visitors may well have their own effect on the U.S. No one is claiming a Cuban Spring right now — basic democratic rights are still suppressed on the island — but Raúl Castro’s recent reforms, from lifting the travel restrictions to permitting Cubans to buy and sell private property, stand to challenge U.S. assumptions. If Havana really is willing to let even dissidents travel out of and back into Cuba, it displaces our half-century-long picture of desperate Cubans risking their lives to escape across the sea on rafts. The prominent dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted this week that officials in Cuba told her that she could travel — though she added understandably that she’ll believe it when she’s actually on a plane out, and then on one back in again.

The more hard-line Cuban-American caucus on Capitol Hill is unsettled at the changes, especially now that a Cuban-American Democrat, Joe Garcia, who is more moderate on Cuba policy, just got elected to Congress from Miami. This week, in fact, caucus leaders like Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami expressed fears that if Cubans begin traveling between Cuba and the U.S. like any other foreign tourists, it could render all the special U.S. immigration provisions for Cubans unnecessary. Their bigger worry is that this sort of cross-Straits normalization will strengthen the belief held by most Cuban Americans, according to polls, that the U.S. should drop its failed, 51-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.

But that kind of change is likely a long way off, especially since disputes over matters like Cuba’s imprisonment of U.S. aid worker Alan Gross, for what Havana calls espionage, are blocking real dialogue right now. In the meantime, there’s Blanco’s superb poetry:

“… my father should still be alive, slow dancing/ with my mother on the sliding glass balcony/ of the Gulf Motel. No music, only the waves/ keeping time, a song only their minds hear/ ten-thousand nights back to their life in Cuba.”

14 comments
MattMarriott
MattMarriott

"Latinos take on bigger role in Obama inauguration" decoded:

Google: The script for supervised race war 

11-08-2012, Last Prophet once again reminds "who fights who" in the supervised race war script by the illuminati:

http://www.forumgarden.com/forums/current-political-events/58841-gay-day-pedophilia-gmo-marijuana-colonialism-taxes-ethnic-civil-war-co-vot.html



WalterLippmann
WalterLippmann

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the island was a military dictatorship. Washington backed that military dictatorship and since there were no legal means to remove that dictatorship, Fidel Castro and his friends took up arms, eventually succeeding.

Henry Pollack says that everything was hunky-dorey under Batista's rule. But it was a military dictatorship. And no one in Washington complained about any human rights violations under that dictatorship.

HenryPollack
HenryPollack

The Castro regime’s flair for propaganda is very effective at giving a distorted view of reality to the gullible international community that flocks to his “paradise” with US dollars that keep him in power. For example, last year the regime held an international transvestite convention, while travel agencies in the US and elsewhere organize tours of Cuba, paradoxically, for gays.

The international community ignores those who died or suffered torture, mutilation and are still bearing deep psychological traumas as victims of Castro’s genocide plans against homosexuals. They blindly adore Castro as he parades through the world with impunity.

Homophobia is a very serious problem in Cuba and is so because it has its routes in the official revolutionary homophobia introduced by Fidel Castro with the large concentration camps, persecutions and imprisonment of homosexuals. The whole repression apparatus in Cuba is still living with the values set by Fidel Castro and homosexuals continue to be persecuted and badly treated by the official Cuba. A few marches in the streets to attract tourists will not change the repression that still exists against homosexuals.

HenryPollack
HenryPollack

Fidel Castro converted a nation with a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western hemisphere, a larger middle class than Switzerland, a huge influx of immigrants and whose workers enjoyed the 8th highest industrial wages in the world into one that repels Haitians. And this after being lavished with Soviet subsidies that totaled almost ten Marshall Plans (into a nation of 7 million) - an economic feat that defies not only the laws of economics but seemingly the very laws of physics. he placed gays in concentration camps, he had them lobotomized, what more proof do you fools need? The Batista 20,000 figure was created by Bohemia magazine, a free ANTI-BATISTA magazine while BATISTA was in power. The gay Cuban editor of that magazine later committed suicide, blaming himself and others members of the Cuban academic nomenclature, for creating the HORROR and the MONSTER known as the Cuban Revolution and its longest reigning DICTATOR, Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul. What is Cuba? A monarchy? Please wake up. The editor of Bohemia killed himself in disgust. Disgust at the left, at himself and all those who fed the ‘myth of the revolution’. Maybe some of you should do some soul searching. Listen to the victims in Miami, STOP DEMONIZING THEM.

WalterLippmann
WalterLippmann

Prior to the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, there was no parliamentary democracy. It was a military dictatorship under the control of Fulgencio Batista. He cancelled the elections scheduled for 1953 in a military coup on March 10, 1952, Washington supported Batista and immediately recognized and funded his dictatorship.

Repression of gays and lesbians? Yes, that occurred in the 1960s and there remains prejudice against LGBT people still today, but under the leadership of Mariela Castro (Fidel's niece, Raul's daughter), much has changed.  A transgendered woman was recently elected to the Poder Popular council (city council) in the port city of Caibarien. I met her on a recent visit to that city.

Fidel Castro publicly apologized for his role in the repression of gays in Cuba in an interview with the Mexican daily newspaper LA JORNADA. Read that here: http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs3080.html World Anti-Homophobia day is celebrated publicly in Cuba now, and top government figures attend these state-sponsored and widely-publicized activities.

Read hundreds of articles about Cuba's LGBT population and its ups and downs here:
http://www.walterlippmann.com/lgbt-cuba.html

WalterLippmann
WalterLippmann

Today Cubans are freer to traval abroad than are US citizens. Almost everyone in the US who wishes to travel to Cuba must obtain a permission slip from the federal government if they want to go to Cuba.


By contrast, all Cubans need to travel abroad is a passport and a visa from those countries which require one. 


Cuba has many problems, but they have free health care and education. All the shouting from foreign critics can't change that.

memojames
memojames

 Is the person in the photo Nico or Richard?

WalterLippmann
WalterLippmann

While Blanco may be gay and Cuban-American, but he presumably supports all of Washington's efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and restore capitalism to that country that Obama also fully supports.

Keep in mind, please, that before the Cuban Revolution, Cuba was a military dictatorship under the US-backed Fulgencio Batista. 20,000 were killed by Batista who overthrew the preceding democratically-elected government. That is the kind of regime which would result of Cuba's government were overturned and a US-backed regime again imposed on the island.

Isn't that what we see now in Afghanistan, where the troops Washington has armed are shooting and bombing US soldiers?


Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California

vázquez-aspillaga
vázquez-aspillaga like.author.displayName 1 Like

@WalterLippmann  And how many people did Fidel Castro and Che Guevara kill? Including fellow comrades who fought with them? Batista was a corrupt dictator, but Fidel Castro absolutely DESTROYED Cuba in every possible way you can imagine: economically, socially, spiritually, and culturally. And for everyone's information, the revolution was supported by a majority with the aim of establishing DEMOCRACY in Cuba and having ELECTIONS, but there was NEVER an ELECTION! What did Castro say when the people who had supported him talked about having an election? "Elections? Elections for what?" 

Don't believe the propaganda, my grandmother attended public school in La Habana (Havana) in the 1930's and 1940's. And women in the work force had a generous maternity leave pre-Castro. Despite what some would have you believe, there were some great social programs pre-Castro. When Castro took over, he forcibly removed the heads of hospitals, schools, etc... and replaced these experts with people who were very far from being qualified. These people ran these institutions into the ground. When Castro took power, those who decided to leave were severely harassed, and were not allowed to take any money or possessions with them. There were body cavity searches done on adults and children. 

Besides  systematically destroying Cuba, a country that was on on par with the United States in in the 1950's before Castro took over, once in power, he relentlessly persecuted and incarcerated gay people as well. (Read Reinaldo Arenas "Before Night Falls") 

What Castro and his government have done to the people who have disagreed with them throughout the decades (including many artists), is an abomination. There has been horrifying torture, abuse, and much bloodshed on that island. 

Unfortunately, far too many people have been bamboozled into believing a myth. What happened to Cuba and several generations of Cuban people, is a tragedy that has been bought and marketed by the far left as something wonderful and utopian, when the reality is quite nightmarish, criminal, and obscene. 

MehrganHD
MehrganHD

“Chrysler announced they were building Jeeps in China.” USA Today reported.
Liberal media owe Romney an apology...

steveot
steveot

Wasn't that always the case? Rmoney, though, insinuated that Chrysler was <b>moving</b> jobs to China.  The jeeps in China are for Chinese markets. 



MehrganHD
MehrganHD

With your explanation, Chinese cloths should be produced in the states if they were used by Americans?!

Why are liberals so defiant and narrow-minded?!

steveot
steveot

Why are conservatives so ignorant and play fast and loose with the truth ?? 

Rmoney clearly mentioned Chrysler was moving jobs from the US to China. That explicitly did NOT happen. The US jobs are still here.


Besides, are you really whining about this topic while supporting Rmoney? He was known for gutting American companies and shipping jobs overseas at Bain. He did it when he was governor as well. Haha, you really have no clue.