By Katrina Young | Out on the Page
It takes a village to raise a child and our villages are uniquely our own.
In the memoir, “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood,” we learn some of the things from young Riqui’s Cuban-American village that shaped him into the book’s author — writer and poet Richard Blanco — who became the inaugural poet for President Obama in 2013.
As only the fifth poet to ever read at an U.S. presidential inauguration, Blanco was also the youngest, the first Latino, the first immigrant, and the first openly gay person to do so.
Blanco shares an inviting memoir that, true to the poet inside him, focuses on the heart of the story and takes creative authority with the facts. He paints a picture that captures the essence of what it was like for him to be a member of a vibrant Cuban family, while also portraying the disconnect he felt with his Cuban roots.
Having been conceived in Cuba, born in Spain, and raised in the United States, Blanco was on a journey of self-discovery to know how to answer when asked, “Where are you from?”
Blanco’s self-discovery goes far beyond navigating his Cuban and American roots; he also navigates accepting his sexuality despite being reprimanded for anything deemed as feminine. The matriarch of his family tells him “it is better to be it and not look like it than to look like it even if you are not it.” On one hand he is being told to hide what does come naturally to him (his sexuality) and on the other hand he is trying to be more Cuban in ways that do not seem to come as naturally to him as they do to Cubans who have lived in Cuba.
The chapters in “The Prince of Los Cocuyos” — which could each be short stories on their own — tell stories of Blanco with members of his Cuban “pueblo” in Miami. The characters are so well developed and the imagery is so clear that the theme of nostalgia resonated loudly for me.
I felt for each of them in their heartbreaking tales of how much they missed Cuba, the beauty of the people and the land, the wealth that some once had, and the family and loved ones that they may never see again. Despite the heartache, threads of humor and cheerful Cuban pride helped brighten the stories.
True to its title, this memoir is of Blanco’s childhood in Miami and that could leave us to question what happened next, but the ending of “Prince of Los Cocuyos” answers that question seamlessly. Blanco gives readers glimpses into evolutions within himself and his relationships with family members. I enjoyed seeing how he goes from being confused on how to answer when asked, “where are you from” to being the inaugural poet for the President of the United States.
I look forward to meeting Richard Blanco on Nov. 13 at the Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation’s third annual San Diego Literary Gala where he will be the featured artist.
The gala will be held at the San Diego Central Library located at 330 Park Blvd., Downtown. For tickets and more information on this year’s gala, please visit sdliteraryfoundation.org.
—Katrina Young is the treasurer of the Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation and a lover of LGBT literature. Follow her on Twitter @sapphicreader.