EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 25, 2013

Poetic inspiration

Acclaimed poet tells high school students how he came to feel 'American'

By Sara Brown
sbrown@eagletribune.com

---- — Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco said he always struggled with identifying who he was. He didn’t know whether to identify as Cuban, American or Cuban American.

It wasn’t until he spoke at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January that he realized America had been his home all along.

“I found home on Jan. 21. I wasn’t expecting that. I just wanted to read my poem and go home,” Blanco said to an auditorium filled with high school students yesterday.

Yesterday, Blanco spoke about what it means to be American at Lawrence High School as part of the White Fund Enlightenment series.

The poet read his original poem “One Today” at Obama’s inaugural ceremony.

“I realized that day my story is as American as everyone else’s,” he said.

However, growing up Blanco didn’t always feel like that. Blanco was actually born in 1968 to Cuban exiled parents. He immigrated as an infant with his family to Miami, and was raised and educated there.

“My very first baby picture is the one on my green card. Miami always felt like this in-between place like the real America was just north of Miami,” Blanco said.

Blanco said he imagined the “real” America to be like the television shows “The Brady Brunch” or “Leave It to Beaver” and his own family life didn’t match up to that.

Lawrence High School student Ryan Martinez said he could relate to Blanco’s struggle.

“Sometimes you feel like you have to pick. You are either one or the other in some people’s eyes,” Martinez said. “I’m Puerto Rican, but people think I’m Irish. It’s confusing at times.”

For other students, Blanco inspired them.

“I think it’s kind of brave to get up there and share your personal story like that. I don’t know if I could do it,” Lawrence High student Selena Nolasco said.

Student Carla Rivera agreed.

“His poems were really good. I didn’t know they were going to be that inspirational,” she said.

Blanco read several poems as well as share stories about his childhood. He then took questions from the audience.

One student asked what side of his heritage he related to more.

“I used to struggle with that a lot. However, I don’t really see it like that anymore. To say I’m Cuban is to say I’m American and to say I’m American is to say I’m Cuban,” he said.

He hit emotional rode blocks while writing his inauguration poem for Obama.

“I had to ask myself if I really do love America. If the answer was no then I was going to have to call the President up and tell him to find somebody else. I wasn’t going to write a fake poem,” he said. “Once I realized that I do love this country, it was like an emotional weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I wrote the poem in rural Maine as I was watching the sunrise. The words came quickly.”

One of the poems he read was about how he imagined as a child creating his own island filled with both sides of his American Cuban heritage so would feel like he belonged somewhere.

Lawrence High School student Anthony Rubrosa said he related to that poem the most.

“Sometimes you feel like you belong nowhere. You need a place to call home,” he said.

Martinez agreed.

“I’m Puerto Rican so I’m not American. I’m American so I’m not Puerto Rican. You are never fully one thing since you’re both,” he said.

Students said they hoped for more presentations like this in the future.

“I enjoyed this. I want to see more things like this here. It was cool,” Rivera said.

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