Sunday, June 19, 2016

Make a man out of him

It's been a hectic few weeks with lots of turmoil, so it is only now I can tell you about a book I read in May. The book is The Prince of Los Cocuyos (of the fireflies) by Richard Blanco. He is the youngest, first immigrant, first Latino, and first gay poet to present a poem at a presidential inauguration, which he did for Obama in 2013. This book, however, is a memoir, not a collection of poems.

Blanco's parents and grandparents escaped Cuba in 1968. He was born in Spain while his family worked out the paperwork to come to Miami, where they became a part of the Cuban community.

The first few chapters describe when he was a child trying to be American as his parents and grandparents were trying to remain Cuban. He learns about Thanksgiving in school and wants his family to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but none of them have any idea what these foods are. His grandmother takes him to a Cuban grocery store and he wants to experience the American foods in the big American supermarket. It doesn't go well.

There is the trip to Orlando to see Mickey, very much an American experience. During the trip Blanco and his brother use a bit of power over their parents. The boys speak English, the parents are pretty bad at it. The boys order extra food beyond the budget at a fast food place (boys are always hungry) and the parents don't want to make a scene speaking Spanish.

In his mid-teens Blanco began working at a Cuban grocery store owned by an uncle. It is there and during a family picnic he begins to deal with being gay. That is difficult because his grandmother has long been working to make a man out of him. Through his childhood she had thrown away some of his things because they weren't manly enough.

Blanco is a good storyteller. The stories are humorous, sometimes almost absurd from our point of view. Blanco eventually shows us the American/Cuban conflicts are within his own thinking. I very much enjoyed it.

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