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SPRING 2007 Florida International University Magazine


alumni profile

There and Back Again A Cuban-American poet’s urgent search for home brings him back to Miami By Steve Watkins

Photo by Michael Upright

Richard Blanco is home now, back in Miami after a six-year journey that launched the award-winning poet and FIU double-graduate into what was supposed to be the “real America.” “The great prodigal return,” he calls it, the irony evident in his voice—not only about the places he’s been, but about the place he’s come back to. The journey has shaped much of Blanco’s recent poetry, and his evolving sense of identity as a writer, as the son of Cuban immigrants and as an American. Blanco, now 39, came to the United States in 1968 from Spain with his Cuban-born parents when he was 45 days old. He grew up in a Cuban neighborhood in Miami, worked in his uncle’s mercado, and learned all his parents’ stories about their lives in a Cuba he never knew, but to which he would someday return. Or so he was taught. When he finally did visit Cuba, on a trip with his mother when he was in his late 20s, he was drawn to the people and places he had heard so much about, but he also experienced a keen sense of disappointment that the place that was supposed to be his true home, wasn’t. In 1999, Blanco tried a different direction: this time north. When many Cuban immigrants leave Miami to visit anywhere else in the United States, they say they’re “going to America.” The problem with that America—the one Blanco thought he knew from the Anglo TV shows he watched as a boy—is that once he was

there, teaching at Central Connecticut State University, the idyllic America of real his imagination didn’t exist any more consequences than his parents’ native Havana—at least for him. to being a What he found instead was a child of exile. complicated New England city— Hartford—working class, racially and There’s ethnically mixed, dirty and deprived. “I always an was expecting sleigh rides, Jingle Bells,” absence of he recalls. “Boy was I wrong.” “There are

home.” — Richard Blanco

A child of exile The struggle for him now, in what has been a lifelong search for home, is that the Miami of his childhood has been transformed from Cuba Norte into a “Pan-Latino” metropolis that, as Blanco wryly describes it, “changes every 24 hours.” On the one hand, Blanco, acknowledges being frustrated, “robbed of my city,” and says he feels the way his parents must have felt when they were finally allowed back into Cuba to visit, decades after fleeing on one of the famous Freedom Flights in 1968. On the other hand, Blanco recognizes that in many ways, his life as a child of exile—conceived in Havana, born in Madrid, raised in Miami—has been “the quintessential American experience.” “There are real consequences to being a child of exile,” he says. “There’s always an absence of home. You have instilled in you a sense that home is this place you have to go back to, to regain, and you’re always looking for that place.” That search has been a dominant theme in Blanco’s life, and in his work. Continues on page 20

FIU Magazine - Spring 2007 - The Last Hope