First of all, let’s make it clear that neither myself nor anyone else here at Babalú begrudges Richard Blanco’s significant achievement of being selected as President Obama’s inaugural poet. It is an accomplishment that on a personal level, the Cuban American poet should be proud of. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking Blanco was selected because he is a Cuban American that personifies the Cuban exile community in the United States. To the contrary, everything you read about Blanco’s selection indicates the complete opposite.
Blanco was selected because he personifies the almost complete opposite of practically everything the American left hates about Cuban Americans. The fact that he is a liberal and a supporter of President Obama pales in comparison to what the American left likes the most about Blanco; his palpable disdain for the “hardline” historical Cuban exile community they love to mock and belittle. The same community that courageously and tirelessly struggled and worked in a new country so they can give their children liberty and the opportunity to be successful. In other words, the freedom and opportunity that Blanco is enjoying right now. In essence, Richard Blanco was chosen because he is the opposite of what the Cuban exile community represents. Instead, he is the American left’s version of the infamous enlightened “New Man.”
If you believe my evaluation may be a bit exaggerated and a tad melodramatic, read Time magazine’s assessment of Blanco and what they feel he represents:
Richard Blanco, Obama’s Inaugural Poet: Not Your Father’s Cuban Exile
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.
We congratulate Richard Blanco for his achievement and we wish him the very best. But as far as I am concerned, he represents the American left’s ideal Cuban American, their “New Man.” He does not represent Cuban Americans in general or the iconic Cuban exile community that fought and struggled so hard in this country so their children and grandchildren could be free and have opportunities. It was the blood, the sweat, and the courage of the Cuban exile community that made this moment possible for Mr. Blanco. Something he obviously did not think about as he wrote his poetic lines mocking them.