Richard Blanco: Finding Belonging in Others | Facing History & Ourselves

Richard Blanco: Finding Belonging in Others

Richard Blanco explores how storytelling and poetry cultivate empathy and foster connection between individuals and groups.

Video Length



  • English & Language Arts


English — US


Richard Blanco: Finding Belonging in Others

Richard Blanco wearing a white collared shirt and dark cardigan speaking to a room full of people.


I've always written from the perspective that sharing my story about migration, about moving, is not only a journey for myself to understand, but it's also, as any artist, really, your art is your gift for others to understand their journeys, to explore perhaps questions that they didn't have, or answer questions, or try to answer questions, that they're already having.

It's part of human nature. All of us, in some ways, are always migrating, or we're always, in some sense, in exile. You move to a new city, there's a whole renegotiation of your space, new foods, and perhaps different people on the street from other countries.

We also migrate psychologically, right? We change careers, and we have to renegotiate our sense of self and our identity amongst a whole other group of people or a whole other industry or a whole other culture. So there's many ways in which we migrate. Part of the motivation to tell my story is that I think it's ultimately a universal feeling, and there's a great pleasure in using storytelling as a connection.



One of my very first poetry writing assignments was write a poem about America, and I thought, what am I going to write about? And I go home and write this poem about little Ricky finally gets his family to cook turkey on Thanksgiving instead of pork. And I thought, OK, this is a very particular story to me.

And I was so surprised. I read this poem at a recital, and this person from Australia comes up to me and says, I really loved that poem. I really connected with it. And I'm like, why? You're from Australia.

I think he moved from New Zealand to Australia, and there was some kind of similar Thanksgiving kind of day. But they eat a particular food in New Zealand, and were eating something different in Australia. And he connected with that.

We're constantly renegotiating our cultures in some ways. Maybe not as extreme as that. And even when we don't move, our circumstances change, and I think that's just taught me the universality of my experience was really because I told a particular story.

I am rightfully a Latinx writer and particularly a Cuban writer, but I see myself as that and more. Because, really, all our human experiences are universal. The window dressing changes. But when you read stories, it's important to understand that this is not a story just about a Cuban kid, and it's not just a story about an Asian American kid. There is a universality to these stories.

And I have my Latinx pantheon of authors that have given me permission to write my story or weigh into my story, but then again, some of my favorite authors are, for example, Elizabeth Bishop, a woman who died in 1975, from Worcester, Massachusetts, which I can barely pronounce, much less spell. What does Elizabeth Bishop have in common with Richard Blanco?

And yet here's an author, a woman who I felt was searching for home all her life because she was effectively orphaned when she was four years old. Her father passed away, and her mother was institutionalized. So she's lived in Key West, Brazil. She's lived here in North Haven in Maine.

Even though the particulars of her life are different, I feel the same sense of longing emotion. And in a way, it's even more powerful when you see yourself in someone that you don't expect to see yourself in, and what that says to me as a writer, and maybe just as a human being as well, is if I can see myself in Elizabeth Bishop, someone like Elizabeth Bishop should be able to see themselves in me. And that's one of the beautiful things that storytelling can do, that art can do, that poetry in particular can do.

Poems at the heart are made of empathy. First of all, we find also empathy for ourselves, and there's incredible power in that. And then the poem then becomes, again, like a bridge of empathy for others to understand themselves, and perhaps beyond that, for us to understand ourselves together.

I know that every time I write a poem, there has to be some kind of emotional, empathy connection for me. Otherwise, I don't feel like the poem has done anything in the world. The greatest compliment for me is when someone reads one of my poems and says something like, this poem reminded me of when this, or, I never thought about my mother this way, or, I never thought about X, Y, or Z this way. Now I've realized that that poem is doing something in that person's life.

Readers read these poems not just because it's Richard Blanco's story, but it's also your story. It's also there for you to connect with yourself and pass on the empathy also to others by your newfound understanding of what a poem can do.

Richard Blanco: Finding Belonging in Others

How to Cite This Video

Facing History & Ourselves, “Richard Blanco: Finding Belonging in Others”, video, last updated March 25, 2024.

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