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Richard Blanco, Gay Inaugural Poet, Pens Anthem for Latinx Lives

Richard Blanco

Blanco was commissioned by USA Today to write a poem that reflects on the El Paso shooting.


Richard Blanco has written a new national anthem to mark the two-month anniversary of the El Paso, Texas, shooting as well as the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The poem, "The U.S. of Us," was published in both English and Spanish Thursday in USA Today. It honors the Latinx lives that were lost in the terror attack, while also celebrating Hispanic culture.

"In the wake of the violence of El Paso shooting, I felt an urgency to take a hard look at our place as Hispanics in the United States," Blanco explained in a statement. "I wanted to honor the victims and survivors of that tragedy, but I also wanted to celebrate our incredible contributions and historical connections to our nation, as an antidote for the fear and isolation we are feeling and fighting right now."

Blanco is the first gay, first Latinx, and first immigrant inaugural poet -- and his work often speaks from the intersections of these identities. "The U.S. of Us" is no different, and the piece -- evoking the language of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- begins with a plea for a recognition of the contributions of Hispanic people to the United States:

O say, can you see us by the dawn of our ancestors' light still breathing through the cities we forged from the wind of our wills, drenched in the rain of our dusty sweat, and christened for the faith gleaming in our saints' starry eyes: San Francisco, San Antonio, San Diego?

O say, when will you have enough faith in us to meet the gleam of our eyes in your own, when will you see us as one in this one country we all so proudly hail, and tear down the ramparts that divide us from you, instead of raising new walls?

There is a plea to end the demonization, violence, and persecution of immigrant lives as well:

When will you stop drowning us, trafficking us like cattle in trucks, corralling us in kitchen alleys and musty motel rooms, scarring our children's faces behind the striped shadows of iron bars, rebranding our skin as rapists and murderers lurking behind you? When will our immigrant toil and struggling dreams not be your ploy for profit? When will you praise us as assets and allies?

We will not live our worthy lives in fear and shame.

"O say let there be proof that star-spangled banner still waves for us, too. Let the land of the free count us in, too. Let the home of the brave remain our home, too," it concludes.

In a recent interview with The Advocate, Blanco discussed how he viewed himself as an "emotional historian" in his latest book, How to Love a Country, which is in part reactionary to the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the vitriol against marginalized communities it exposed.

Rather than reciting in an echo chamber, however, Blanco expressed how he wished to reach "across the aisle" and use poetry as a means to see "ourselves as people and not colors on a map."

"Different times demand a different kind of poem," said Blanco.

Blanco read for Barack Obama's second inauguration, where he delivered a poem for unity, "One Today." In addition to poetry, he is also the author of two memoirs, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood.

Watch his recitation of "The U.S. of Us" below and read the full poem on USA Today.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.