19 pages 38 minutes read

Richard Blanco


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1998

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Summary and Study Guide


“América” is a poem by Cuban American poet Richard Blanco. It was published in Blanco’s first poetry collection, City of a Hundred Fires (1998). The poem, which is written in the first-person, is about how Blanco’s extended Cuban family living in Miami gradually learned about and even began to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In a wider sense, it is about how immigrants to the United States acclimate to a culture that may be strange and new for them. Blanco himself has remarked on how Thanksgiving was an American tradition “without translation,” and the poem reflects one of the author’s earliest memories of culture clash as his family tries to mix Cuban and American traditions. The poem relies on humor to bridge the young speaker’s longing to fit in to the new culture, and the older generation’s desire to keep Cuban ways alive in a new land.

Poet Biography

Cuban American poet Richard Blanco was born on February 15, 1968, in Madrid, Spain. His family were Cuban exiles, and they immigrated to the United States when Richard was just over six weeks old. He was raised in Miami and initially he trained as an engineer, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Florida International University. He later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the same university, and thus became both engineer and poet.

His first collection of poetry was City of a Hundred Fires (1998), which included the poem “América.” The collection was awarded the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize. Blanco’s next published poetry collection was Directions to the Beach of the Dead (2005), which won the PEN/American Beyond Margins Award, and his third collection, Looking for the Gulf Motel (2012), received the Thom Gunn Award, the Maine Literary Award, and the Paterson Prize.

In 2013, Blanco was chosen to read at the second inauguration of the President of the United States, Barack Obama. He was only the fifth poet to be so honored, and the first Latino. Blanco read “One Today,” a poem he wrote especially for the occasion. It was published in book form as One Today with drawings by Dav Pilkey in 2015. Boston Strong (2013) is a chapbook that reproduces Blanco’s poem presented at the Boston Strong Concert, about the bombing that occurred during the Boston Marathon in April of that year. Blanco’s fourth collection of poetry, How to Love a Country, was published in 2019.

Blanco also has a reputation as a performer of poetry. He has written and performed poems for organizations including Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards and the Fragrance Awards. Blanco also wrote and read a poem to commemorate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in 2015, which had been closed since 1961. Blanco has also received many honors for his work, including a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellowship, a Florida Artist Fellowship, and a Bread Loaf Fellowship.

In addition to his poetry, he has published two memoirs, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (2013) and The Prince of Los Cocuyos; A Miami Childhood (2014). The latter describes his childhood and adolescence and how he came to understand his national and cultural identity as a child of Cuban immigrants, and also his sexual identity as an emerging gay man.

Blanco has taught at Georgetown University, American University, Central Connecticut State University, and Wesleyan University. As of 2022, he is an Associate Professor at Florida International University in Miami.

Poem Text

Blanco, Richard. “América.” 1998. Poetry Foundation.


The poem is divided into five stanzas, or verse paragraphs. The first-person speaker is an adult who is remembering his life as a young boy. He describes how his Cuban family living in Miami gradually adapted to the U.S. celebration of Thanksgiving.

The first stanza is about the jars of peanut butter that were given to them every month by the U.S. immigration authorities. Being unfamiliar with peanut butter, Aunt Miriam devises multiple uses for it, , while the speaker’s mother is at a loss until she discovers how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The second stanza explains that the boy’s family always ate pork on celebratory occasions, as well as beans and plantain chips, which they bought from a local store that stocked such Cuban favorites. In the store were men, Cuban exiles, who complained about having lost their wealth back in Cuba.

In stanza three, the speaker says that after a while, he stopped believing that they would all return soon to Cuba. He was just seven years old at the time. He explains that while he spoke English, his parents did not, and the family did not match the profile of typical mainstream white Americans he frequently saw on television. He compares the food his family eats on Thanksgiving Day to the more traditional food Americans eat..

In stanza four, the speaker explains to his grandmother some of the fundamental elements of U.S. history and culture taught in grade school. Because of his enthusiasm, the family agrees to have turkey at Thanksgiving for the first time, as well as pork.

The fifth and final stanza describes how the family cooked and presented the meal. The boy speaker gives a blessing in both English and Spanish. One uncle, Tío Berto, does not much like the turkey, and the pumpkin pie dessert is coolly received since the family does not consider pumpkins to be a food. Cuban coffee is served and the family dances the merengue, almost forgetting for a while that they are in America. Tío Berto is the last to leave.