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America’s inaugural poet visits Cuba amid warming with US

EL ESPARTACO, Cuba (AP) — The old woman looked suspiciously from her window as American poet Richard Blanco and a writer friend clambered out of a battered Soviet-era sedan and walked up to her front porch.

“I’m looking for my grandparents’ house,” Blanco explained, reciting the names of relatives who lived in what used to be this sugar boom town before the Cuban Revolution.

“Ah, you’re Carlito’s son!” 83-year-old Moraima Gonzalez declared. She rushed out her door to embrace the visitor, her face blooming into a smile. “Those people are family to me! I’m so happy to see you!”

Blanco made his first trip to Cuba after President Bill Clinton loosened travel restrictions in the 1990s. In 2012, he became a symbol of modern America when he was selected to be the inaugural poet at President Barack Obama’s swearing-in — the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the first immigrant to hold the title.

This week, Blanco, 47, flew to his parents’ homeland after more than a half decade away as part of an effort to accompany the warming of diplomatic and economic ties with an emotional reconciliation through art and literature.

Blanco and his longtime friend Ruth Behar, a renowned chronicler of Cuban-American life and Jewish communities in Cuba, took a weeklong tour of the island, introducing each other to friends and relatives and recruiting Cuban writers and artists for a new website that will feature writing about life on both sides of the Florida Straits.

After President Barack Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement of detente, “I felt like I’ve never been more American and more Cuban, ever,” Blanco said. “Like I can actually have two homes and love two countries.”

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