When President Obama was sworn in for a second term two years ago, Richard Blanco became the first Latino, immigrant and openly gay man to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.
Today marks another milestone for Blanco: The Cuban-American will read an original poem during the formal reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana more than 50 years after its closing—something neither he nor his Cuban parents thought they would live to see.
“I know for me personally and emotionally, I never thought in my lifetime I would see anything like this happen,” Blanco told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “In some ways, I had given up, so to speak, like my parents and grandparents.”
Blanco said the re-opening of an embassy represents “the beginning of a dawn” for the U.S. and Cuba, and that his poem will focus on the “healing” between two sides, using the ocean as a metaphor for what both unites and divides Americans and Cubans.
“It’s really about thinking about our common humanity,” he said.
The decision to attend the ceremony in Havana, however, wasn’t necessarily an easy one for Blanco. He grew up in a community of Cuban exiles who had fled the Castro regime in the 1960s. But as an artist, Blanco said, he’s been able to reconcile his feelings of Cuba’s dark past with a hope for the future.
“I really came around to realizing that my job as an artist and as a poet is to see history in a larger arc and that part of it is bringing those stories of my parents and making sure they’re not forgotten.”
But don’t expect him to shake Cuba’s President Raúl Castro’s hand during the ceremony.
“You know, I have to say that intellectually I can wrap my head around him a little bit, but in the end, I think out of respect for my parents and my community I may have to decline that handshake,” the poet told Ramos.
Watch the full interview above.