2019 Great Immigrants Recipient

Richard Blanco
U.S. Inaugural Poet and Memoirist
Born in:

“We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight / of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always — home, / always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon / like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop / and every window, of one country — all of us — / facing the stars / hope — a new constellation / waiting for us to map it, / waiting for us to name it — together.” Those words ended Richard Blanco's poem “One Today,” which he delivered at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States in 2013. The nation’s fifth inaugural poet, he was the youngest, the first immigrant, the first Latino, and the first openly gay poet to be selected for the honor. Blanco’s parents fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba when his mother was pregnant, and he was born in Madrid in 1968. The family immigrated to the United States less than two months later, and Blanco grew up in Miami. Heeding his parents’ advice to pursue a practical profession, Blanco worked as a civil engineer before returning to his alma mater, Florida International University, to get a master’s degree in fine arts. Blanco’s award-winning books include Looking for the Gulf Motel and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. His most recent book of poetry, How to Love a Country, invites readers to grapple with the human search for belonging and the major issues of the day, including immigration. In 2015 the Academy of American Poets selected Blanco as its first education ambassador. As he explained to NPR, “America is a work-in-progress — ever changing and fluid — and we need to rework the rhetoric, the conversation, because from its very inception our nation has been about immigration and immigrants, who are not a drain on us, but the essence of who we are and our very survival economically, politically, culturally and — most importantly — spiritually.”