The poem that Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco recited in August at the historic U.S. embassy reopening ceremony is now out as a commemorative chapbook and its proceeds will go to charity.
The chapbook or small paperback is bilingual and contains the poem called “Matters of the Sea,” or “Cosas del Mar.” It also includes a preface that gives a historical background of the United States’ relations with Cuba and details Blanco’s inspiration for the poem.
Proceeds will go to Friends of Caritas Cubana, a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian, social and emergency services to people in Cuba.
Blanco, who in 2013 became the first Latino and openly gay man chosen as the presidential inaugural poet, said in an interview with NBC News that “Matters of the Sea” is one of the most emotionally complex and personal poems he has ever written.
He also explained that its message is about the need for the U.S. and Cuba to heal together and not necessarily about forgiving and forgetting.
“The intent of this moment for me personally and my poem was never about ignoring the past,” he said. “It’s about offering a way to heal in order to move forward and really create changes.”
Last December, President Obama announced that he and Cuban President Raúl Castro had agreed to resume relations for the first time in more than 50 years. The two presidents agreed to open embassies in each other’s countries and to ease restrictions on commerce and travel.
While many Cuban-Americans have welcomed the news, others have had trouble accepting the changes and there are mixed feelings.
National polls showed support for the renewal of U.S.-Cuba ties is stronger among younger Cuban-Americans than it is among those who are older. One recent poll found that only 25 percent of Cuban-Americans aged 65 and older support the move, compared to nearly 53 percent of Cuban Americans under the age of 65.
Blanco is among those who view the normalization of relations with Cuba as a positive step. The son of Cuban exiles said he understands why older Cuban-Americans who fled Fidel Castro’s repressive regime are not supportive. Many of them see the move as legitimizing the Castro government.
But Blanco said he feels a responsibility to participate in “the changes that are in the horizon” in part so that the stories of Cuban exiles, like his parents, are not forgotten.
“If we don’t participate in that process, then I think we are at a loss, because we can’t affect the outcome,” he said. “And if we do nothing, in a way we are surrendering that power to other interests that may not have the same perspective that we bring to the table as Cuban-Americans.”
Blanco was only 45 days old when he arrived to the U.S. with his parents. After fleeing Cuba, Blanco’s parents first moved to Spain, where he was born, before heading to New York City and then to Miami. “I typically like to say I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States,” he said.
Even though he didn’t visit Cuba until he was 24 years old, Blanco grew up imagining what it was like. He heard about Cuba through the photographs, letters and stories his mother shared with him, which he said helped him develop a “very strong connection” to the island.
“My mother served as my lifeline to Cuba, in a way,” he said.
Now, Blanco visits the island every four to six years. And every time he does, he said he feels things are always different. “The economy is different, the attitude of the regime is different, there are different rules and regulations,” he said. “You just never know what you’re going to get in Cuba.”
When Blanco went to Cuba in June, just before the reopening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Havana, he said he saw “an incredible sort of difference in Cuba that I hadn’t seen before.”
“There was this great spirit in the air—sort of a cautious optimism, a pessimistic hope, as I call it, of change on the horizon,” he said. “I think people were very excited about the possibilities ahead with the beginning of normalization of relations.”
Griselda Nevarez is a freelance journalist who covers national and local politics with a focus on Latinos. She previously worked for VOXXI.com, reporting and writing stories about politics, immigration policy and Latino issues. She was born in Mexico and is a graduate of Arizona State University. Nevarez currently lives in Arizona.