Cuba Through the Eyes of the Poet Richard Blanco


Michael T. Luongo interviews poet Richard Blanco for The New York Times.

When Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today” at President Obama’ssecond inauguration in 2013, he was the first immigrant, Latino and openly gay poet to do so.

Mr. Blanco, 47, was born in Spain and raised in Miami by parents who left Fidel Castro’s Cuba. His book “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood,” was published last year. With Ruth Behar, a Cuban-born writer and professor at the University of Michigan, he started a blog,Bridges to/from Cuba, to foster dialogue between Cubans on the island and those of the diaspora.

He recently shared his insights about visiting Cuba as it and the United States start normalizing relations. Following are edited excerpts.

Q. Having met President Obama, what were your thoughts when you heard about the changes between the United States and Cuba?

A. I was impressed by the president’s bold move. At the same time, I considered with great empathy the life stories of exiles like my mother, Cold War struggles for freedom and the American dream. I found myself craving some guarantee these historic changes will lead to greater freedoms and prosperity for the people of Cuba, which I hope the president does not lose sight of. Opening up Cuba has to mean way more than our own desires as Americans to be able to travel freely to the island.

What have your own visits been like?

I’ve visited six times over the last 20 years, staying with my Cuban family. On my most recent visit this June, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of licensed businesses that had opened up, nightspots and restaurants, filled with Cubans, not just tourists. Transportation had improved, including the vintage 1950s cars that now transport people, up and down Avenida Linea in Havana, for 10 pesos. What I jokingly like to call “Cuber” instead of “Uber.”

What were some of your favorite sites?

Varadero is the most beautiful beach in the world. A midnight stroll through Old Havana. There is art everywhere in Cuba. I went to Fábrica de Arte, a mix of art galleries, theater spaces, bars and craft shops. But the real beauty of Cuba is its people.

What role do you think Cuban and Cuban-American writers should have in the changes in the relationship between the United States and Cuba?

There has been what I see as an emotional embargo, that invisible Berlin Wall across the Florida straits that has affected my generation of Cuban-Americans, the Cuban diaspora and the people of Cuba. Because of this Ruth Behar and I created our blog for Cubans everywhere to connect and work through these changes through storytelling and cultural exchange.

What impact do you think this new relationship might have on rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on the island?

There has been much said about Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, and her work as a gay rights advocate. I think gay tourism could have a positive impact. Being living examples of the rights we have secured and enjoy in the U.S. might serve as inspiration to Cuba’s L.G.B.T. community.

Many of us who might have visited Cuba or have imagined visiting Cuba think of it nostalgically.

It’s somewhat of an annoying question to me, because it lacks sensitivity. For Americans, Cuba has a psychic hold on the imagination, but we have to understand Cuba is a real country with real people. Cuban people don’t exist to entertain our romantic notions of them, past, present or future.

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