By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,131)
Richard Blanco, 46, is the son of immigrants. His parents and older brother left Cuba when his mother was seven months pregnant in 1968. They moved to Spain where Blanco was born. Forty-five days later, his family moved to a suburb of Miami, Florida where he grew up. “As the son of immigrants, I was always searching for a home,” he admitted to the several hundred gathered at Congress Square to celebrate World Refuge Day – a designation by the United Nations years ago.
Fast forward to December 12th of 2013. Blanco was driving home to Maine, when he received a phone call informing him he’d been chosen as inaugural poet for President Obama’s second inauguration. “My body knows it’s the most important moment of my life as a poet, a day by which I will mark the rest of my life, the day I learned that I will be named the fifth poet ever in our history to be US Inaugural Poet,” he writes in his delilghtful, paperback book – “For All Of Us, One Today.” Blanco and his partner Mark Neveu, left Bethel, Maine for the inauguration in the Capitol – Blanco returned knowing he was home – knowing he was an American. It was much more of a life changing experience in more ways than he could have known at the time.
Blanco was asked to write three poems from which the Inaugural Committee would pick one for him to read. The Committee picked the now famous “One Today.” Blanco read to the crowd from his preferred poem “Mother Country,” although it was not selected by the Inaugural Committee to be read for the occasion. It was his preference, though, because it is autobiographical and close to him emotionally. “You know, mijo, it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where you choose to die – that’s your country;” his mother tells him and so ends the poem with those words. A message that resonates on World Refugee Day at Congress Square 2014.
Blanco’s life has changed in other ways since reciting “One Day” on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. He travels constantly all over the world. Next month, he is going to China for a week-long conference. His partner, Mark Neveu, said they see less of each other these days. But part of that is because Neveu, a scientist, is in the process of starting-up his own health-care business. He hasn’t decided where yet. “Richard is an introvert at home,” Neveu says. “He does a lot of observing and sees everything. But he gets enthusiastic and connects with people when he is talking about his poetry.”
Paul Revier, a licensed clinical social worker works with Portland’s refugee community, spoke to the crowd eloquently as well. “Coming from the San Francisco area, when I first moved to Maine I initially missed cultural diversity. But that has changed now….too many of Maine’s new arrivals come with their previous illusions of safety completely shattered…..Together, Portland, can be a part of the healing. Together, we can help replace tyranny with justice.”
editor’s note: Prior to his appearance at Congress Square, Blanco said that a memoir he has written will be released on September 30th; “The Prince of Los Cocuyos.” Ninety percent of it was written before Inauguration Day at the White House last year. It’s an uplifting, coming of age story of his childhood up to the age of 16 1/2 years old. The publisher, ECCO, of Harper Collins, is arranging a major book tour, although he doesn’t know exactly where it will take him.