HAVANA, Cuba _ Richard Blanco, a Cuban-American poet who read his poem at President Obama’s second inauguration, gave a unifying message when he recited a new poem Friday at a ceremony that marked the first time in 54 years that the American flag flew over the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.
The ceremony symbolized the renewed diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. But an hour before the ceremony, Blanco said the event was something more for him:
"It’s like two parts of me are coming together today," Blanco told NBC News Latino in an interview in the lobby of the legendary Hotel Nacional.
Blanco started off by dedicating his poem titled “Matters of the Sea” to “the people of both our countries who believed that not even the sea can keep us from one another.”
“The sea doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is this: We all belong to the sea between us.”
In his poem, he also called on people to listen “to the echo” of the sea, which he said is “still telling us the end to all our doubts and fears is to gaze into the lucid blues of our shared horizon, to breathe together, to heal together.”
Blanco is an award-winning poet who came to the U.S. with his Cuban exile parents from Spain when he was an infant. He was raised in Miami.
He was handpicked by the White House in 2013 to read a poem at Obama’s second swearing-in following the 2012 election, making him first Latino chosen to deliver such a reading, as well the youngest and first openly gay person.
Before leaving to Cuba this week, Blanco was asked by NPR’s Robert Siegel how he felt about being asked to pen and read a new poem for the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba. “In some ways, this was one of the easiest and one of the hardest,” he said about the assignment.
He also said his inspiration for the poem came from thinking about the 90 miles that stand between the U.S. and Cuba.
“I started thinking about that and how to make that something not about separation, but about unification,” he said. “And so it’s the sea that separates us, but it’s also the sea that unites us.”