Single Voice Reading: Richard Blanco

By Angela Mauroni

            Richard Blanco, a public speaker, civil engineer and highly recognized and accomplished poet, came to campus to participate in Allegheny’s Year of Civil Rights as part of the Single Voice Reading Series. Blanco read nine original poems in Ford Chapel that largely focused on his struggles with his identity. He is the youngest, the first Latino, and the first homosexual male to be an inaugural poet.

City of a Hundred Fires was Blanco’s debut book in 1998, and since he has written five other books, including three in 2013 alone. The poem he wrote for the inauguration is titled, “One Today,” and is centered on ideas of unity within the country.

Blanco was chosen to be the inaugural poet by President Barack Obama, being only the fifth person to ever receive the honor. It is shared by poets as famous as Maya Angelou and Robert Frost.

Being conceived in Cuba, born in Madrid, Spain, and raised in Miami, Florida, Blanco expressed the variety of cultures he experienced growing up.

“Growing up in Miami was unique in this way: it was living two lives,” Blanco said.

In Miami, he lived in a non-diverse Cuban community, but grew up watching sitcoms like the Brady Bunch. After seeing these sitcoms, he couldn’t help but compare his life to theirs. He frequently found himself asking, “Who am I? Where am I from?”

He addressed this struggle with identity in his poetry. He read one poem about the limitations his homophobic grandmother tried to enforce in him. Blanco longed for a place where he could be who he was as a homosexual man.

Most of his poetry is written with a humorous tone despite the fact that it touches on very deep societal issues.

LaVerne Thompson, ’14, wrote her opinion of his reading in a blog on Allegheny’s website:

“Though it is light on the surface, it tackles a number of heavy topics that many of us have experienced while remaining honest and endearing.”

Although Blanco critiqued both American and Cuban cultural values, he also attempted to focus on the beautiful parts of each culture, including how they can meld together.

Most of Blanco’s inspiration comes from his mother.

“Her story’s not about courage or loss, but faith,” said Blanco.

He expressed the inspiration he had when thinking of the courage that his mother showed when she moved to America, knowing not any English and essentially chasing after the American dream. She once told him, “It isn’t where you’re born that matters—it’s where you choose to die.”

Sydney Fernandez, ’17, thought Blanco was down-to-Earth and relatable.

“He wrote in a way that evoked a lot of emotion and made people want to go out and change things,” said Fernandez. “And it was without encouraging change as much as just expressing how he felt.”

When asked during a short Q & A at the end of his speech about how he reconciles the unity of history and the unity in present times, Blanco answered that he reaches for an ideal of what we could be. He described the world as a “national community.”

“In some ways, it’s a global home.”