On being is brought to you by the John Templeton Foundation, harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind, learn about the latest discoveries in the study of forgiveness, generosity and freewill at Templeton Doug. As a long time civil engineer by day and poet by night, the Cuban-American writer Richard Blanco has straddled the many ways a sense of place merges with human emotion to form the meaning of home and belonging. In 2013, he became the fifth poet to read at a presidential inauguration, also the youngest and the first immigrant at Chautauqua.
I invited him to speak and read from his books The Wet and the deep thoughtfulness and elegance of Richard Blanco's poetry and his person captivated the crowd. The most recent and very resonant question he's asked by way of poetry is how to love a country.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, with a cure for the hatred caused by despair.
With a good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway where every door held open like a smile.
When we look into each other's eyes, the way we behold the moon, we're the moon with the promise of one people on one breath declaring to one another. I see you. I need you.
I am you. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. I spoke with Richard Blanco as part of Chautauquan 2019 summer season in the historic outdoor amphitheater. Richard, you have written every story begins inside a story that's already begun by others long before we take our first breath. There's a plot underway with characters and a setting we did not choose, but which were chosen for us.
What I want to do for the next hour here is kind of explore the story of our time a bit through the story of your life and the way you've captured both of those things in the language and form of poetry. Um, you were 45 days old when you landed in America. That's the definition of something that was chosen for you. Exactly.
Just if I asked you that large question, just to get going, you know, how would you start to tell the story of our time to the story of your life? Where would you begin?
Well, I think as I as I like to say, I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to United States.
It gets it gets even a little crazier. So my mom my mom left seven months pregnant from Cuba. I was born in Madrid and they waited for exile, exile first to Madrid, first from Madrid, where so where I was born. And then 45 days later, I emigrated once again. So by the time I was 45 days old, I belong to three countries and had lived in two world class cities. And I think writers I think artists in general, I think all of us went something like that.
Really some kind of origin story like that really imprints us. And of course, I don't know, it's in printing at that time. But when I start writing and thinking about that big question, where am I from, where do I belong in this world?
I think the idea of home was always a big question. It's still a question that I'm still a story that I'm still trying to unpack.
And it's gone through many arcs and periods of love and hate, periods of confusion and delight. So all that is really sort of still what I'm working on. Even in this latest book, I think in a way, a question that Whitman was also working on. What is an American and what does it mean to be an American and what does it mean to belong to a country really in that sense in this day and age where that idea is just becoming a little blurry, shifting, shifting now?
Yeah, I mean, you could say that that question of home, what home is and how it feels and how we claim it is part of the human drama for everyone. But when it is an immigrant story, it just gets it's in Technicolor from the very beginning. And we're going to talk some more about that. I I wonder, was there a religious or spiritual aspect to your childhood, to those to the to your formative years?
You know, I guess I grew up Roman Catholic, Cuban, Latino, Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic parochial school all my life since kindergarten. And I think there was an interesting base set up there for me. But, you know, nothing that I really connected at the moment at that age. But I think it came back it came back somehow writing open that door, that connection to the divine, to some connection to the universe, to things that B and I considered writing my spiritual practice.
But again, I think there was there was a basis to that and and also a little more complicated than just Roman Catholic, the Afro Cuban idea of Sundari ancestral worship. So that also made it into the writing in a way, because so much of my motivation to write some of these poems was to document the lives of my ancestors in some ways, their story, their journey, the story I came I came from, as you said.
Yeah, I feel like as I've delved into your work, like the full body of your work, you are reflecting on and articulating aspects of.
Yeah, again, like the immigration story of humanity with a complexity and with all kinds of layers, that although this is a moment in American life, not for the first time, but again, where, you know, we we speak about immigration often in terms of issues and news stories.
And I feel like you bring to life a fullness of that experience, which is a human experience.
And so I really I want to kind of draw that out because I feel like it is very present, very relevant to how like we are all inhabiting this moment and are I mean, you were I did read in your I think your memoir that you said, you know, you grew up learning about America and kind of internalizing America through reruns of Brady Bunch, Leave It to Beaver and My Three Sons.
And when I read that, I thought, oh, that's terrible. And then I realized I watched all those shows also. That's what I grew up on. So we've all come a long way. I've been Donna Reed right now.
I'm the you know, I you know, it's interesting because. I think, you know, when I first began writing and again, I say that as a sort of a starting point where I started to ask these deep questions, I just always say writing makes me think and thinking makes me write. And there's a circularity to that because you dive deeper into questions into yourself and into your soul, into your mind and heart.
Yeah, you learn when you write, you also learn what you think that you didn't know you were thinking, right? Exactly. And that's part of what keeps me addicted to it. But the story of writing at first I shied away from this idea of who wants to hear about some such a particular story about a little chubby gay kid from a working class family in Miami who wants to hear that story.
And I think it's always been a question I've tried to negotiate and then thinking about audience and readers. Right. And thinking about whether or not how am I a catalyst, how am I a bridge to not only understanding my life, but understanding for that others can understand this idea of the immigrant experience or exile experience and through the years to get to to serve. I know you were saying I finally embrace the idea that in some ways, especially in our contemporary society, we're all in exile.
We all have immigrant experiences of some kind that weren't happening exactly 100 years ago. I mean, you move from Miami to Seattle, you're going to have an immigrant experience, right? You move from Chicago to to San Antonio, you get the picture. And I think what Latino writers and immigrant writers are right, ethnic writers have been doing, and I count myself not single handedly, but in a pantheon of a kind of a body of work, is set a template for what is, I think, a very contemporary drama that we're going through in some ways of dislocation, location.
You know, families didn't disperse the way just even five times and families did disperse as much.
We can be exiled in social media, too. Sometimes we can be isolated. We and I always try to think, what is this particular story I have to offer universally and try to write it from that perspective. We've all asked that big question. What is home about his home? Yeah, you know, it's it's like asking what is love, you know, and it changes and it's complex, right? Yeah.
I mean, I think, you know, something that just is kind of feels like a large context for a lot of your reflection is on the one hand, and I think especially from childhood on, there's a at one in the same time kind of that that idealized idea of America that came through The Brady Bunch and comes through in many other ways, but also a yearning for the lost home.
I mean, a deep curiosity. I mean, you sometimes describe it as just in passing as my parents island paradise, Cuba. And there's this I wanted to read. There's this in the inner city of 100 fires. This is how you start a poem called Havana.
Havana. Oh, yeah.
In the beginning, before God created Cuba, the earth was chaos, empty of form and without music. That's the spirit of God, stirred over the dark tropical waters and God said, let there be music and a soft conga began a one to beat in the background of the chaos.
There you go. Yep, you read that wonderfully, by the way. So it's a little weird with you. Very good. That was like perfect timing. I loved it. Oh, well, I wonder. That makes me happy.
But then I wonder also if you would read kind of as a counterpart to that in in this book, page three, America Starting. Do you have this one? OK. I know. I have. So I have it for you. I told you, you're not going to have to do any work if you don't want to know, it's on page four. I did say to Richard, but because this is radio, short poems are better and he doesn't really do short poems, Cubans poems.
But his part, your poems are very narrative. Exactly. So we're going to hear some great poetry today.
So maybe start this. This is just so wonderful. Let's start here at number four and then you can. So the context here, just everyone else at Thanksgiving is, of course, for an immigrant, for almost any immigrant group, it's just one of those things we don't get like and we try really hard.
And and and Latinos are at least in my in my Cuban community, we call it sanguine giving like Sampedro or saying Ignacio.
So it's it's a whole other kind of feast day.
And and we were saying, I'm sure there's still sort of a yearning between this mythic homeland that is Cuba that I don't really know, and this mythic homeland that is the Brady Bunch house, which I want to buy someday.
And so you'll see this sort of Ricky, this is all in the context of Thanksgiving and Ricky trying to negotiate those two yearnings.
A week before Thanksgiving, I explained to my abuelita about the Indians and the Mayflower how Lincoln set the slaves free. I explained to my parents about the purple mountains majesty one if by land, two, if by sea, the cherry tree, the Tea Party, the amber waves of grain, the masses yearning to be free, liberty and justice for all. Until finally they agreed this Thanksgiving we would have Turkey.
As well as pork abuelito prepared the poor Fowlers of committing an act of treason, faking her enthusiasm for my sake, my mom said of frozen pumpkin pie in the oven and prepared candied yams following instructions I had to translate from the marshmallow bag.
The table. The table was arrayed with gladiolas.
The platter turkey loomed at the center on plastic silver from a world where everyone sat in green velvet chairs with no holstered would clear vinyl except the Okeanos until the seated in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I ordered a bilingual blessing and the turkey was passed around like a game of Russian roulette.
Dry your bed complained and proceeded to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings and cranberry jelly inside oh, as he called it, faces fell when my mom presented her okra pie.
Pumpkin calabaza was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Damadian made three rounds of Cuban coffee.
Then Willow and Pepper cleared the living room furniture put on Azalea Cruz LRP in the entire family began to moringa over the linoleum of our apartment, sweating rum and coffee, sweating rum and coffee until they remembered.
It was 1970. And 46 degrees in America. After repositioning the furniture and appropriate darkness filled the room, Gilberta was the last to leave. So before we move on and keep going with more poetry, I do want to note that although most Americans first came to know about you as the poet of a presidential inauguration, you were a civil engineer before you began to write. And I. Were you still a full time civil engineer when you delivered the inaugural?
Yes, yes. Yes. So this has been this has essentially been your career, which I find fascinating. And at first, I think it might sound like a surprising juxtaposition, but the more I thought about it, it makes a lot of sense because it's about design and structure and patterns. Right.
And, yes, you got that. You hit that right on the nose. I mean, as careers are obviously different career paths and serve, you're not in a cubicle all day. But I learned a lot about writing poetry from my math classes in terms of structured logic patterns. As they see, musicians say music is very mathematical, right? Yeah. So that lends itself to writing and vice versa. Being a civil engineer, I had to engage with a lot of public, a lot of communities and towns and and being of being a writer, being a poet, which is in some ways the study, partly a study of human nature that really built my sort of skills in terms of trying to, you know, understand people, their own nuances of what they're saying, what they're not saying, and tease out of them the emotional relationship to place and home.
And projects that were civil projects for everyone in Georgia, which ironically is what my poetry is about, trying to find a psychological home, but also in this in my in my engineering, I was in a way creating brick and mortar home. Right. A sense of home with brick and mortar. And it's really interesting because I think it speaks also. You got you hit it right on the nose like it's not that different. But I think it speaks to our general attitude.
Well, and still how we silo education and oh, you're an engineer. It's getting worse and worse these days. You're an engineer. You don't need to learn how to write. My job was 50 percent writing and I didn't start writing until I stepped into my consulting office and had to write. And that actually led to my love of language in a way, too. And was I started exploring language and then I got deeper and deeper into it and became the go to person and the senior partner because of my writing.
Right. Your job? Yeah. An engineering proposal that gets in a 40 million dollar job is nothing but a narrative. Right? An argument of persuasion of how our firm is the best firm, how this our vision for the project. But it is funny sometimes because sometimes interviewers get it wrong. They're like, you know, the romantic story is that I was forced to study engineering because I'm a working class family. And they write that I discovered poetry on the clouds parted and the tribes came down and left.
And I was like and I always my response is, you know, I really, really wanted to go full time into poetry because there was so much money, but.
Yeah, but I really felt an ethical obligation to stay in engineering, and so there's kind of a practical matter, but I loved the balance too, and it created for me, at least in my left brain, right person. I love the balance. And I guess I just want to say for writers out there, too, and those especially young writers that are thinking about becoming writers for as professional writers, just because you have another career doesn't make you a sellout.
In fact, as long as you keep a focus on your vision and you find something that works for you and every journey and how you come to do something is unique. And I'm proud of having those sort of seemingly contradictory careers and and vocations. Yeah.
Yeah. And I. I love I love the way you describe what is actually true, that the that the emotional and psycho practical and emotional needs that you need in a good design like poetry is another way of delving into those things. And we do try to separate. We pretend like these are separate disciplines. When it's about being whole.
It's all one thing. I mean, if we think if we think upon sort of any innovation or any sort of breakthrough, it's really about synthesis of seemingly disparate or unrelated knowledge or pieces of of knowledge. My sense of place heavily. It's not quite a theory, but the way I've been thinking about it lately as an engineer, that everything has a physical landscape, an emotional landscape and a natural landscape. And I think those the way those three things combined form our sense of place and belonging and connection.
So so all of that is another way to speak to the true complexity of these themes that for you are so important for all of us, are so important of place and belonging and the fullness of that and our wrestling with that.
I mean, I have to say one thing that really stuck out with me as I have gotten to know you, that also is part of this story of what it means to be an American, is that Richard Blanco is not really. It's a part of your name. Yes, right. I mean, I interviewed Martin Sheen, who is Ramone Aceves, and and my my our executive producer, who I've always known to have two names. It turned out after I'd known her for many years that she's reclaimed.
She's a Colombian American, all of her name. So so tell us your your full name.
You were born with my full name and so is technically Ricardo Blanco Sanchez, Valdez Molina, because I was born in Spain and they take them all out.
But it's funny because naming is like one of those things about sort of also the sort of origin stories. Vme naming is such an interesting thing and how we rename ourselves or not. Yeah, I love how rock stars remain like Freddie Mercury.
There's there's a name you're given and then there's the name that you you take on or you feel you to you describes you or captures you're in a different way.
The problem, not the problem, but the back story beyond that that I don't think I've ever quite written about. So it was named after Richard Nixon.
And because it had nothing to do politically, because my parents are in Spain, I'm born, they just wanted to come to the United States. So I was named Ricardo after Richard Nixon.
Jeezy's because my middle name is Jesus because my mom on that transatlantic flight said if we make it alive as his middle name, Jesus.
And and then as I looked back the way I would have liked to rename myself. Yes. Which would have been like I put Richard because I like the contrast of the Anglo. Right. And then the and then white, you know, is it did you ever think about calling yourself Richard White?
Well, my my my standing joke. And it was Dick Jesus White.
And I think it's comical because it brought in Protestants don't put names their kids. Jesus. But it's so common in. Yeah. Roman Catholic Latino society to but I it it just doesn't translate.
So I mean Richard Nixon and Jesus and they wonder why I became a poet and an engineer and I feel like we could keep going on that for about twenty 25 years would be really fun.
But we're going to change the corner.
We, I'm being we have poets on the air the last two election weekends and I think we'll probably keep going with that practice. I lived in divided Berlin in the 1980s. I've experienced in my lifetime how poetry.
Rises up in culture after culture, especially in moments of crisis, especially when official discourse and words are failing us or inadequate for what we have to grapple with and when we really have to reach for new language and new ways with language, among other things, to give voice to what we need and want to give voice to.
You know, in a way, it's a corollary to what you described about the synergy between engineering and poetry that we have to meet the practical needs with our emotional needs, the psychological, the political. Um, you've quoted Elizabeth Bishop somewhere saying it's not about what I said, but about what's not said. And I also feel like poetry leaves room for silence and poetry makes room for questions that are unanswerable and that for them to sit there.
Yeah, I, I'm starting to see it more connected to the idea of how music happens in us, happens in the writing of the poem and also how it imprints in us in the same ways that sometimes we can hear a song and we're not exactly sure the words are saying something, but there's an imprint that's something we can't always place the finger on. My father move through dooms of love, through themes of and through HIVers of give. I have no idea what that means, but there's a pleasure, and I actually don't want to break it down that much, but there's some beautiful pleasure.
I know what it means on another level. And those empty spaces, like in music, I think poetry affects us that way. And it's not usually taught that way.
It's taught like, let's pin down the frog in Annamarie class and let's pull it apart. And that's important to a certain degree.
Yeah, but it's not usually taught to just let it be in us and let it breathe in us. I don't know where the Hotel California is to get there, but I love that song and and how we we can read poems over and over all. Everybody has a favorite poem, right? We can read that poem over and over again. We rarely go back and read, not reread novels or memoir. And it's like music. You can always hear your favorite song over and over again.
Well, and to your point also, I also think poetry became this acat scholarly pursuit for some people and not for others. And and yet we are all hearing poetry and enjoying it and claiming it in through songs all the time.
You know, the Bible is and actually all every, every religious and spiritual person I can think of has always known to convey that there's some truth can only be conveyed through poetry psalms.
I mean, yeah, their first job is an epic poem. The prayers. That's one of the things I say before I get up to read is always the prayer of Saint Francis. There's this beautiful meaning, but also the language in there. And it's just grounding you in a way that's not just spirituality, though. That's a big part of it, but it's also language. Right?
Well, so I think what I'd really like to do is get into your newest volume, How to Love a Country. Is it right at the beginning of this book you have this line.
Tell me with whom you walk and I'll tell you who you are. You have that in Spanish and English. Yeah. Is that is that you don't attribute that to anybody.
It's never been attributed to any even an anecdote of a story or any one person. But it's it's it's a really popular sort of idiom of saying in Spanish the Mekong King and the King. King it is. Yeah. I took a lot of chances in this book because I broke out of just talking about my sense of humor and my American ness or and stardate.
Like I say, I think I would move from the poetry of I to the poetry of Louis. And so I started thinking, who am I walking with?
Who has come before me? Who has walked before me? Right. And this idea of ancestor, again, of stories. You're born into someone else's story and you walk and then you give that story to someone else.
But I was thinking, who are we right? Who are we as a country and how are we walking together?
And there's a beautiful also maybe I was inspired also my department, one of the department heads at my alma mater, she has a saying from the Caribbean that says, what good is your what your mom tells you?
What good. Right. And so and I was thinking about, you know, what is the company past and present? Who are we walking with and how together what are we doing? Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh. After a short break, more with Richard Blanco. You can always listen to this again, wherever podcasts are found and you can dwell with all the poetry from this hour and much, much more at the experience poetry home at on being big support for on being with.
Krista Tippett comes from the Fetzer Institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fetzer envisions a world that embraces love as a guiding principle and animating force for our lives, a powerful love that helps us live in sacred relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. Learn more by visiting Fetzer, dawg. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being Today with Richard Blanco, the Cuban American civil engineer turned poet. We're exploring themes of home and belonging, physical and emotional, personal and communal, as Richard Blanco takes them up in his book, How to Love a Country.
We spoke in the outdoor amphitheater of the Chicago institution. I said to you before we came out here, if you feel called to read anything through any of those books, you may you may do that, but I'm going to propose I pulled some out that, you know, it's interesting.
You you use the word immigrant. You know, that's that's kind of the way you describe your family story, I think, most often or, you know, exile a bit. I had a conversation last year about Hannah Arendt, who wrote a lot about, you know, exile and the conversation I was having with the scholar of Hannah Arendt who works with refugees. Now is how, you know, what happens to our imagination about these humans when we use the word immigrant or refugee or.
What I'm so aware of now is what the word migrant has done, how I think that language makes an abstraction of people and creates an ability for us to separate. Anyway, this is just on my mind. And then, you know, you wrote this poem called Complaint of El Rio Grande Day, which is again looking at this entire drama from a whole different angle. Right.
Which is this natural piece of the natural world that is crossed and that in that moment makes of people.
Whatever that thing, something transforms, you want to read that one? Sure, I'd love to. Page nine, give me a lot to think about there, but we'll read it first, like he said.
So this I've been hearing about sort of the Mexican U.S. border since I was a kid. And I think we all in some ways are just sort of had it with this issue. Right. In the context of you mean to tell me that we can't not just as countries as as a Western Hemisphere come to some kind of fair, amicable, humane to this problem?
That is not we're making it a problem. Right. And it gets abstracted and it gets politicized, overly politicized. And I thought, how can I do this? Is let the river speak and let the river. So this is a personam poem in the voice of the river to sort of let all humanity have it. The river sort of pointing a finger at us, so to speak, complained.
Over Rio Grande, the. I was meant for all things to meet. To make the clouds pause in the mirror of my waters, to be home, to fall and rain that finds its way to me to turn 80 tons of loveless rock into lovesick pebbles and carry them as humble gifts back to the sea, which brings life back.
To me. I felt the sun flare, praised each star, flocked about the moon long before you did. I've breathed air, you'll never breathe, listen to songbirds before you could speak their names, before you dog yours and me, before you created the gods that created you.
Then countries your invention maps jigsaw, bring the world into colored shapes, caged in bold lines to say you're here, not there, you're this, not that to say yellow is in red. Red isn't black. Black is not white.
To say mine and not ours to say war and believe that life's worth is relative. You named me Big River, drew me blue, thick to divide, to say and Yankee to say, I can gringo you split me in two half of me, us, the rest of them. But I wasn't meant. To drown children, hear mothers cries, never meant to be your Geographe, a line, a border, a murderer.
I was meant. For all things to meet.
The myriad clouds and suns, Tingo, birdsongs in the quiet moon, the wind and its dust, the rush of mountain rain and US blood that runs in you is water flowing in me.
Both laugh. Both truth, we know to no be one in one another. That home still does things to me, like I'm still learning myself. It's really interesting, the creative process and how they can act. Like I always say, my poems are smarter than me. I'm not that smart. I, I go through this this whole physiological experience when I read that poem again and thinking about that river being that river. Yeah.
Would you read America the Beautiful again. Oh, sure. Page 66. Six, six. Part of this film was the title of this book, How to Love a Country as a statement. It's also a question. It's also a self-help book for today.
How to book. Maybe one thing again, like you were saying about language, like, why write a book that I didn't want it to I didn't want it to be a one beat kind of book. And I also wanted to explore different things. And I didn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and be poems just of protest. And I just went back to this poem, to that patriotism. But the kind of innocent patriotism that you feel as a kid, that pure kind of love for ideals and at least for me and what this country stands for, I think still stands for.
And so this is going back to that space. And I'll sing a little bit, which is you can leave if you want. You have you have your chance now. So America the Beautiful, which is obviously a reference to the song.
How I've sang O Beautiful like a song at church with my mother, her Cuban accent scaling up every vowel o beautiful yet in perfect pitch delicate, in tune to the rating beams of stained glass slide.
How she taught me to fix my eyes and the crucifix as we sang our thanks to our savior for this country that saved us. Our voices, hymns as passionate as the organ piping towards the very heavens. How I sang for Spacious Skies Closer to those skies while perched on my father's son beat shoulders towering above our first 4th of July parade, how the timber through our bodies mingled, breathing, singing as one with the brass notes of the marching band playing the only song he ever learned in English.
How I dared to secure that assembly with my teenage voice cracking for amber waves of grain that I'd never seen or the purple mountain majesties but could imagine them in each verse, rising from my gut, every exclamation of praise I belted out until my throat hurt America and again, America. How I began to read Nietzsche and doubt God. Yet still wish for God to shed his grace on the. And crown thy good. With brotherhood. How I still want to sing, despite all the truth of our wars and our gunshots ringing louder than our school bells.
Are politicians smiling, lies at the mic, the deadlock of our divided voices shouting over each other instead of singing together. How I want to sing again, beautiful or not, just to be in harmony from sea to shining sea with the only country I know enough to know.
How to sing for Anthony? I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being today with civil engineer and poet Richard Blanco. I sometimes ask at the end of a conversation this question, what, what what's what makes you tick, what's making you despair right now and where are you finding hope? And I feel like we're so articulate about our despair. Yeah. You know, and I feel like your your, um. What is making your heart ache? We've heard I would like to ask you, where are you finding joy, where you're finding hope right now?
I think it's interesting that I was just at that point, I do a small radio segment which we call The Village Voice, and we share poems sometimes mine.
And this has it'll air next week. But I called it National Oblivion Day. And the folks were like, I can't take it anymore. And it was also like one of the great things that poetry does is allows us to just go into that space so deeply that somehow we let go of it in some ways. So I'm looking for poetry that does that that lets me acknowledge and be OK with where we are right now. And that helps a little bit.
But I'm trying to think, I guess what keeps me hopeful and this is something that I it's sort of in between all this despair and and fear and and apprehension, I.
I think one of the most beautiful things that I see and it happened first with the ban on Muslim and whatnot, that people, at least in my lifetime for the first time, were standing up for something that didn't affect them directly. That is a democracy.
Right. And so. I just love that we're stepping up and we're realizing now, OK, this is OK, I don't have to go to that protest, not about me, but that poem from the you know, first they came for the science. I mean, that poem. And I think we're finally we're not doing that. We're not waiting for them to come for us. We are stepping up and realizing that the quality of life, the virtue of this country depends on every human being story to a certain degree, that our happiness depends on other people's happiness.
And we're moving from a space of dependence to realizing our interdependence. And I just think that's beautiful in what the questions I mean, this book was scary in some ways because I'm broaching subjects that somehow I also felt I didn't have permission to write about, like, you know, about Mexican immigration. Well, no. I mean, there's there's a common ground there, right? Race, gender, all these kinds of issues. And I think that's what I'm trying to do, is I'm also trying to embrace everyone else's experiences and perhaps coming up with language together or saying, you know, me, too.
Right. So I just love that that's happening. And it's hard to see between the 24 hour news reel and the clips.
And so it becomes becomes a discipline like almost like a spiritual discipline to take that seriously, too. Right. You know, it's a way of us, some of us, enough of us collectively living this phrase that you have at the beginning of the book, How to Love a Country.
Tell me with whom you walk and I'll tell you who you are. So it's us expanding that sense of who we are and realizing that we're walking together where we need to.
We've always actually acknowledging that now.
Yeah. So the book begins with the Declaration of Interdependence. Is there a story behind us?
Oh, yeah, there's one one again, finding language, finding another angle, finding another dialogue, and how easily stereotyped and typecast people can become in the news and also how we do it to ourselves.
Right. I oh, you know, you drive a red pickup truck, therefore you must be this person. You shop at Whole Foods, they're you. You must be this kind of person. You drive a Subaru, therefore you must be this kind of person. And realizing that that's really something that's been slowly chipping away at our brains like this sort of immediate sort of Hornsey judgment. But as a typecasting, sometimes we're not even aware. So I just wanted to break down some of the stereotypes and create empathy across those stereotypes.
But it also ultimately comes from a saying, a greeting from the Zulu people. That was the real inspiration here. The greeting, they don't say good morning like we do, like we did this Friday morning. I need coffee again. Hey, they look at one another. Right in the eyes and say, I see you. And there's an incredible power in seeing and being your knowledge, if I'm not mistaken, the reply is I'm here to be seen and I see you.
And so we've just we're not seeing each other as clearly. And I think this poem was trying to let us see each other clearly. And it's got declaration of again, I think I mentioned the next sort of evolvement in our consciousness from dependence to end to independence is really interdependence. Right. That's really where as a country, as a people, as a family, as a species, as a species, you don't do that. Yeah.
You know, in the face of such climate declaration of interdependence. And these are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.
Such has been the patient sufferance where mothers bred instant potatoes, milk at a checkout line where three children pleading for bubble gum and their father were the three minutes she steals to page through a tabloid needing to believe even Star's lives are as joyful and as bruised.
Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury, where her second job serving an executive absorbed in his Wall Street Journal at a sidewalk cafe shadowed by skyscrapers, were the shadows of the fortune he won and the family he lost, where his loss and the loss were father in a coal town who can mine a life anymore because too much and too little has happened for too long.
A history of repeated injuries and usurpations, where the grit of his main streets blacked out windows and graffitied truths, where street in another town lined with royal palms at home with a Peace Corps couple who collect African art, where their dinner party talk of war crimes wielded picket signs and burned draft cards, where what they know it's time to do more than read The New York Times by fair trade, coffee and organic corn. In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress.
We're the farmer who grew that corn, who plows into his is worn as his back by the end of the day, where his TV set blaring news, having everything, nothing to do with the field dust in his eyes and his son nested in the egg of his arms.
Where his son, where a black teenager who drove too fast or too slow, talked too much or too little, move too quickly, but not quick enough with a blast of the bullet leaving the gun where the guilt and the grief of the cop who wished he hadn't shot.
We mutually pledge to each other. Our lives, our fortunes. And our sacred honor. We mutually pledge to each other. Our lives. Our fortunes. And our sacred honor. Where the dead were the living amid flicker vigil, candlelight. We're in a cell with an inmate reading Dostoyevsky, where his crying, his sentence, his amends with the mending of ourselves and others, where Buddha's serving soup at a shelter alongside a stockbroker, where each other's shelter and hope a widow's 50 cents and a collection plate and a golfer's 10000 dollar pledge for the cure.
We hold these truths to be self-evident with a cure for the hatred caused by despair. With a good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway where every door held open like a smile.
When we look into each other's eyes, the way we behold the moon, where the moon with the promise of one people on one breath declaring to one another. I see you, I need you. You. Richard Blanco practiced civil engineering for more than 20 years. He's now an associate professor of creative writing at his alma mater, Florida International University. His books of nonfiction and poetry include looking for the Gulf Motel and, most recently, How to Love a Country.
Speaking of poetry. All of the poems Richard Blanco read this hour are part of a new offering of solace and sanity. The experience poetry home at on being dug. There are short form and deep dives for any time of day and any kind of day. Our world is noisy, challenging and tumultuous. But you can get tethered and be recharged and find your way to a deep review, a longer view. Poetry helps again experience poetry at on being Doug.
The NBN project is Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Lauren Dawdle, Aaron Kosaka, Eddie Gonzalez, Glenroe, Lucas Johnson, Suzette Bearly, Zach Rose, Siiri Grassley, Collene Czech, Cristian Wartell, Julie Siple, Gretchen Honold, Charlotte Akhavan, Patrick Oklahoma Benkert and Gautham Cherkashin. Special thanks this week to the Chautauqua Institution. Beyond Being Project is located on Dakotah Land. Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating. And the last voice that you hear singing at the end of our show is Cameron Kinghorn on being as an independent non-profit production of the On Being Project.
It is distributed to public radio stations by WNYC Studios. I created the show at American Public Media. Are funding partners include the Fetzer Institute helping to build the Spiritual Foundation for a Loving World. Find them at Fetzer Dawg Calliope, a foundation dedicated to reconnecting ecology, culture and spirituality, supporting organizations and initiatives that uphold a sacred relationship with life on Earth. Learn more at Calliope Dog Humanity United Advancing Human Dignity at home and around the world. Find out more about humanity.
United Dog, part of the umbrella group, the George Family Foundation in support of the Civil Conversations Project, the Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy and fulfilled lives, and the Lilly Endowment and Indianapolis based Private Family Foundation dedicated to its founders interest in religion, community development and education on being is produced by Unde studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota.