RICHARD BLANCO was catapulted into fame on January 21st, 2013, when he recited his poem “One Today” at President Oba-ma’s second inauguration ceremony. As an openly gay Cuban-American poet, Blanco was at once a revolutionary choice for the occasion and a bold statement by Obama about his own vision for America. In his new memoir, The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, Blanco tries his hand at a second memoir, a kind of prequel to 2013’s For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, and the end result is as mesmerizing as the flight of lightning bugs (cocuyos) illuminating a sultry summer night sky in South Florida.
Blanco’s childhood souvenirs are distilled into seven distinct vignettes set in the changing Miami landscape of the mid-1970s and early ’80s. The opening chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book by recounting the very first American San Giving (Thanksgiving) thrown by his very Cuban family at his insistence: “My teacher seemed to understand Thanksgiving like a true American, even though she was Cuban also. Maybe, I thought, if I convince Abuela [Grandma] to have a real Thanksgiving, she and the whole family will finally understand too” [italics in the original]. The feast included the traditional turkey with instant Stove Top stuffing and pumpkin pie alongside Cuban staples such as frijoles negros (black beans) and roasted pork. Indeed, young Ricky straddles two cultures: the world left behind by his parents due to Castro’s revolution and the promises of free America embodied in such icons as The Brady Bunch, New Wave music, and junk food.
Eduardo Febles is an assistant professor in the Modern Languages Dept. of Simmons College.