Obama’s Inauguration Poet Talks About Becoming A Man

by Richard Blanco
I’m six or seven years old, riding back home with my grandfather and my Cuban grandmother from my tía Onelia’s house.

Her son Juan Alberto is effeminate, “un afeminado,” my grandmother says with disgust. “¿Por qué? He’s so handsome. Where did she go wrong with dat niño?” she continues, and then turns to me in the back seat: “Better to having a granddaughter who’s a whore than a grandson who is un pato faggot like you. Understand?” she says with scorn in her voice.

I nod my head yes, but I don’t understand: I don’t know what a faggot means, really; don’t even know about sex yet. All I know is she’s talking about me, me; and whatever I am, is bad, very bad. Twenty-something years later, I sit in my therapist’s office, telling him that same story. With his guidance through the months that follow, I discover the extent of my grandmother’s verbal and psychological abuse, which I had swept under my subconscious rug.

Through the years and to this day I continue unraveling how that abuse affected my personality, my relationships, and my writing. I write, not in the light of Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, or Elizabeth Bishop, but in the shadow of my grandmother–a homophobic woman with only a sixth-grade education–who has exerted (and still exerts) the most influence on my development as a writer.

I am seven, I think. My grandmother tells me I eat wrong: “Don’t use a straw, ever. Los Hombres don’t drink soda with a straw. Now throw dat away and sit up.” I look wrong: “Dios mío, you nosin but bones. Dat’s why the boys at school push you around. Even a girl could beat you up. Now finish your steak, or else.” My friends are all wrong: “I no taking you to dat Enrique’s house neber again. He’s a Mamacita’s boy. I don’t want you playing with him. I don’t care what you say, those GI Joes he has are dolls. Do you want to play with dolls; is dat what you want señorita?”

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