When Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today” at President Obama’s inauguration in January 2013, he was the youngest poet ever to read at a presidential inauguration. But more attention went to Blanco’s other distinctions: he was the first Latino, the first immigrant and the first openly gay poet to get that commission.
Blanco was born in Spain, but grew up with his Cuban family in Miami — a culture-bridging childhood he describes in his new memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos. In it, he writes about taking pains to hide his sexual orientation as a child in a hyper-masculine, conservative community. But Blanco tells NPR’s Arun Rath that he wanted to make sure he didn’t write about his sexuality in isolation — instead, he sought to explore how his cultural heritage, his community, his art and his sexuality collided while he was growing up.
On the cultural tensions of his Cuban-American childhood home
I always dreamed of Fruit Loops and Easy Cheese and all these things that they never had at the Cuban grocery stores. So … part of the first chapter is how I plotted and sort of lured my grandmother into finally taking that trip into the forbidden zone, which was Winn-Dixie, where all the few remaining Anglos in Westchester, Miami, still shopped.
You know, growing up in Miami there was this sense of … living between two imaginary worlds. One was the 1950s and ’60s Cuba, of the community in the minds of my parents and grandparents — this place where we came from, this place where I was from, but had never been. And the other sort of mythic place was America, because growing up in a very monolithic Cuban community, it really did feel like America was somewhere else.
On understanding America through The Brady Bunch
I really truly believed, being naive and a child and also growing up in Miami, that this is the way the rest of the world lived and that there was a Brady Bunch house to be had everywhere north of the Dade County line. And to this day I’m still addicted to reruns of The Brady Bunch.
On how his sexual identity collides with his artistic and cultural identity
To continue to read interview highlights and full story: http://www.npr.org/2014/09/28/350892572/inaugural-poet-recalls-a-closeted-childhood-of-cultural-tension