A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities.Read more...
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A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities.
Richard Blanco's childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents' nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver--an "exotic" life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see "la patria."
Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer--as an artist--prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the 2013 inaugural poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age and the people who influenced him.
A prismatic and lyrical narrative rich with the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami, Richard Blanco's personal narrative is a resonant account of how he discovered his authentic self and ultimately, a deeper understanding of what it means to be American. His is a singular yet universal story that beautifully illuminates the experience of "becoming;" how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning, and tenderness that define a life.
- ISBN-13: 9780062313768
- ISBN-10: 0062313762
- Publisher: Ecco Press
- Publish Date: September 2014
- Page Count: 272
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-08-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Growing up in the 1970s in a Cuban-American community in Miami, poet Blanco was besieged by his exiled relatives’ nostalgia for the life they had left behind in Cuba in the 1960s; yet he also yearned for a American identity free from the immigrant experience. In seven chapters Blanco moves through the milestones of his adolescence living with his mother, father, older brother, Carlos (“Caco”), and grandparents, specifically his overbearing abuela, who had saved enough money working as a bookie in New York City for the family to move to a new house with a terra-cotta roof and lawn in the Westchester suburb of Miami—pronounced “Guechesta.” In the first chapter, “The First Real San Giving Day,” young Ricardo accompanied his abuela to help buy the chicken specials at the Winn-Dixie, a gringo store she highly suspected (“We don’t belong here”); yet her grandson gradually won her over to the American selections such as Easy Cheese and even engineered a Thanksgiving feast for the family that was as foreign as it was instructive. Being chosen as the companion for lovely Deycita’s quinceañera ball made Blanco, however, begin to wonder whether he liked girls at all, confirmed by his first dreamy crush on the former Cuban prisoner and new hire at the bodega where he worked for many summers, El Cocuyito (“The Firefly”). Blanco has a natural, unforced style that allows his characters’ vibrancy and humor to shine through. (Oct.)
A poet's journey toward identity
Most non-poetry-reading Americans first encountered Richard Blanco in 2013, when he was the presidential inauguration poet. On that occasion, his moving poem “One Today” made passing reference to his Spanish-speaking mother who rang up groceries for 20 years and his father who cut sugarcane so Richard could move ahead in the family’s new country.
Blanco, a gay Latino from Miami’s Cuban community, has now beautifully repaid that debt with The Prince of los Cocuyos, a loving memoir of his boyhood among exiles.
We follow young “Riqui” from his childhood into the larger world of school and El Cocuyito (The Little Firefly), the grocery store where he worked. His tone is fond but clear-eyed: As a boy who loved fairy princesses, he was a puzzle to his relatives. His grandmother was particularly harsh, always badgering him to be more masculine. She was frightened of what might happen to him otherwise.
Indeed, the fear that comes with an unfamiliar language and culture is a running theme: his aggressive abuela flummoxed in a Winn-Dixie; his proud parents treated with contempt during a traffic stop. And Riqui himself was initially frightened by his sexuality. He only slowly integrated his personality—gay, Cuban, American—with the help of fellow Cubans, straight and gay, and an elderly Jewish woman who taught him that living among different worlds could be great fun.
Blanco used the same material in his first poetry collection, City of a Hundred Fires, and he approaches the memoir as a creative artist who shapes his narrative, making clear that it is “not necessarily or entirely factual,” with memories “embroidered.” It doesn’t matter: Blanco’s touching reminiscence has a deep emotional truth.