Richard Blanco, an openly gay Cuban American poet, was President Obama's selection for the inauguration poem. The choice was extraordinary, as remarkable as Obama's embrace of the gay rights movement into the broader struggle for human freedom and dignity as manifested in feminism, in the struggle for African American civil rights, in the labor movement, and in numerous other such movements by the marginalized to stake their claim upon the promise spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
Richard Blanco has a life story that a lot of us who are not Cuban can identify with.
I am seven, I think. My grandmother tells me I eat wrong: "Don't use a straw, ever. Los Hombres don't drink soda with a straw. Now throw dat away and sit up." I look wrong: "Dios mío, you nosin but bones. Dat's why the boys at school push you around. Even a girl could beat you up. Now finish your steak, or else." My friends are all wrong: "I no taking you to dat Enrique's house neber again. He's a Mamacita's boy. I don't want you playing with him. I don't care what you say, those GI Joes he has are dolls. Do you want to play with dolls; is dat what you want señorita?"
I play wrong: "I told your mother not to get you those crayons for Christmas. You should be playing outside like un hombre, not coloring in your girly books like dat maricón Juan Alberto." I speak wrong: "Hay Santo, you sound like una niña on the phone. When is your voice going to change?" And I walk wrong too: "Stop clacking your sandals and jiggling like a sissy. Straighten up por Dios--we're in public." I am wrong ("I'll make a man out of you yet . . ."), afraid to do or say anything (". . . you'll see . . ."), scared to want or ask anything (". . . even if it kills me . . ."), ashamed to be alive.
Substitute grandmother for mother and that could almost be my life's story. I came to the same conclusion about my mother that Richard Blanco did about his grandmother. They both loved us the best they could and the best that they knew how.
I am so grateful to be alive to see Richard Blanco and all he represents stand in the same place on Inauguration Day as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.