Cuban American poet, pastor mark inauguration firsts
MIAMI (WSVN) -- Two Cuban Americans with South Florida ties took center stage during Barack Obama's second presidential inauguration, Monday. The two men also marked several firsts for the historic occasion.
"One sun rose on us today," said Richard Blanco as he began reading from "One Today," the poem he wrote for today's ceremony. He became the first Hispanic and Cuban American to deliver the inaugural poem, a role previously embodied by Maya Angelou and Steven G. Kellman.
"Hands, as warm as my father's, cutting sugar cane so my brother and I could have books and shoes," Blanco, who was born in Spain but raised in Miami and New York, read. "If I thought it was a dream before, it seems more of a dream now," said Blanco after reciting the poem. "It's just so heartwarming," he added.
Blanco, 44, also became the youngest person to assume this position, as well as the first openly gay writer, something that he said reflects change in America. "It's just a whole new dialogue," Blanco indicated. "I feel proud to be part of that," he said.
Blanco, whose body of work includes the poetry collections "City of a Hundred Fires" and "Looking for the Gulf Motel," used "One Today" to paint a picture of America, and it included a line about Miami's Freedom Tower. "The first brush stroke on a portrait, or the last floor of the Freedom Tower, jutting into the sky, that yields our resilience," Blanco read.
Blanco's family in Miami expressed their pride at having a relative play such a prominent role. "It really is an honor, an honor for the family," said Bernie Navarro, Blanco's cousin. "We're very excited, we're elated," he added.
Episcopal priest Luis León, who delivered the benediction, also has roots in South Florida. He was born in Cuba, and at age 11 came to Florida as part of Operation Pedro Pan.
León now heads Saint John's Church, which is located near the White House and is often attended by President Obama. "Mister President, Mister Vice President, may God bless you all your days," León said during his prayer.
León replaced Atlanta megachurch pastor Louie Giglio, who withdrew his name from consideration to give the inaugural prayer after a sermon he gave in the 1990s criticizing same-sex relationships came to light. Saint John's Church blesses gay and lesbian unions and has elected openly gay bishops who live in committed relationships with their partners.
The crowd inside Cafe Versailles in Little Havana responded strongly to the Cuban American presence in today's ceremony. "We've assimilated into the United States, just like every group has," a male Cuban American customer observed. "We have people from our group on both political parties. That's all it is. It's part of being American," he said.
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