Inaugural Poet
6:30 am
Mon January 21, 2013

Why Miami Poet Richard Blanco Embodies Obama’s Winning Coalition

Richard Blanco was selected to be the nation's fifth inaugural poet.
Richard Blanco was selected to be the nation's fifth inaugural poet.
Credit Nico Tucci

Today, Miami poet Richard Blanco will recite the poem he has composed for President Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony.

The son of Cuban exiles, Blanco is the first Latino to be chosen as an inaugural poet. But that's not the only group he represents that helped give the President a second term in office: Blanco is also the first gay inaugural poet, and the youngest person to be selected for the role. 

Nova Southeastern University legal and constitutional history professor Charles Zelden sees Blanco's invitation to recite his poetry during the inaugural ceremony as a way for President Obama to recognize and celebrate those key groups.

"I think the President is representing three of the important constituents that not only got him into office but that he seeks to work with in the coming second term, which would be young people, gay people and immigrants," Zelden said.

The fact that Blanco is from Florida could also be a nod toward the large swing state that, in the end, went for Obama in the last election, Zelden said. According to ABC News, many of those voters turned out to be Cuban-Americans:

The choice of Blanco also comes after an election where Latino voters helped propel Obama to victory. Over seven in 10 Latino voters nationwide backed Obama and Latinos comprised over 10 percent of the electorate for the first time ever, according to exit polling. Traditionally a conservative bloc, almost half of Cuban-American voters in Florida voted for Obama, according to a pre-election poll conducted by Bendixen and Amandi, representing a historic political shift."

Florida Influences Elections, Blanco's Poetry

Richard Blanco's mother was seven months pregnant with him when the family arrived in Spain from Cuba in the late 1960s. According to his website, 45 days after Blanco was born, the family moved to the United States and eventually settled in Miami.

Blanco's Cuban heritage is a theme throughout much of his poetry. In a 2008 interview with WLRN TV, Blanco said it wasn't until adulthood that he started to really examine his cultural background.

"It was later as an adult that you start sort of recognizing and valuing your cultural background and seeing and negotiating where you fit into that space," Blanco said. "To suddenly realize this irony that you think you're just as normal as everybody else around you, which you are because everybody else is Cuban, and you realize, 'oh my God, I'm not American,' or like, I wasn't as American as the Brady Bunch."

Another Feather In His Cap

Originally a civil engineer, Richard started taking a poetry class at Florida International University in 1993. During the past 20 years, he has written three poetry books and won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh and the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award. In addition to writing poetry, Blanco serves on the planning board for the town of Bethel, Maine, where he now lives.

Now Blanco can add 2013 Inaugural Poet to that list.

In a statement, President Obama said, "Richard's writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation's great diversity."