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“When i grow up ,Cherished childhood memories " di Giovanni Savino

"WHEN I GROW UP " BY GIOVANNI SAVINO (copyright MagneticArt, New york)

New York, Manhattan May 15, 2010 .

Cherished childhood memories .I don’t have many.

I had a very unhappy childhood.

The relationship with my parents (who are still alive) has not found a much needed healing in nearly fifty years.

I guess, as a psychological self-defense mechanism, I erased most of my memories from my childhood, aside from a few happy ones from when I lived with my maternal grandparents.

My childhood dreams haven’t come true and although I have somehow managed to attain a fairly successful life and career, I was never able to completely shed the psychological pain and pessimistic outlook on life I absorbed from my parents in my early years.

Of course this pessimistic perspective, assimilated both genetically and socially from my parents, has affected negatively my entire life experience, from schooling to relationships to networking to my private self. They officially diagnosed me with anxiety and depression (just like my father) when I was five years old.

While I have no more ill feelings towards my parents (I did have them, often, when I was younger) over the years, through my observation of different family lives, I became very concerned about the extreme and sometimes negative influence parents can have over their children.

As I was growing up I had the distinct yet inexplicable feeling I was losing touch with the greater, intense potential to express myself through the creative abilities I was born with.

I suppose this is a process which affect most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, as the creative mind we all possess in our early years gives up space to the rational mind, a necessary switch, in order to survive more or less efficiently in a society rewarding financial success as the most desirable goal to attain.

The “original dreams” about our potentiality (e.g. when I grow up I want to be…) get revised, corrected and frustrated along the way by our inner inability to make them become reality, by social, cultural, environmental, financial obstacles and by a dysfunctional relationship with your parents.

Indeed there are many different social, financial and cultural factors contributing towards a child becoming a “winner” or a “loser” in life.

But parents (or a single parent) certainly are either the very first obstacles, or the first support mechanism, we encounter in the linear learning trajectory since our birth.

My work in progress “ When I grow up”, started seven years ago when I was living in the poorest barrio of Azua de Compostela, in the south of the Dominican Republic.

While I was roaming around Azua dusty and dirty streets with my camera, under a scorching sun, a lot of children would just come along asking me about what I was doing and why.

Over time, following me, “El Fotografo”, became their favorite pastime and I got to listen to their stories and sometimes met their desperate parents and saw their below-poverty living quarters.

Most of these kids had just one parent (their mother) or were loosely “looked after” by some other family member. Some of them would occasionally go to a shabby, ineffectual school, some others wouldn’t even bother; all of them spent 99% of their day (and often nights) in the streets, interacting with different levels of barrio sub-culture, including prostitutes, pimps and drug addicts, always trying to find new ways to earn, beg, steal a few coins in order to eat something.

While many of their stories ranged from sad to horrible, their living conditions were appalling, their nourishment inadequate, all of them were able to come up with a snappy answer when asked:” what do you want to do when you grow up?”

Their life plans (just like mine when I was their age) where candidly optimistic.

Nurse, doctor, policeman, politician, computer expert, airplane pilot, getting married to a foreigner and go live in New York or in Europe, journalist, shop owner, lawyer etc etc.

Sadly, I documented with a series of close-up portraits the imprint of hardship I could see reflected in their eyes along with hope, happiness, sadness, pain and anger but above all I think what transpires from these children headshots is how difficult it will be for them making their dreams (whatever they are) become a reality.

The world is very focused on appearances. Who your parents are, the school you got your degrees from, the size of your house, the quality of your clothes, the car you drive, who you know, are without doubt stronger social validation factors than your natural abilities or creativity per se.

These children’s facial expressions, sad, pensive, happy, desperate, hopeful, were visually pinpointing onto a personal awareness about the pitiless compartmentalization of a society where if you are born poor, you’ll most likely remain poor, if you are not given the instruments to

compete with the rest of the world in your early years, most likely (thanks God there are always exceptions to this cruel rule) you are not even getting a chance to compete.

We often delegate our kids’ education (albeit later complaining for the poor results), to an underpaid schoolteacher, to a relative, to the street, to fate, to life itself.

We could blame the school system or simplifying, we could blame society for our children failure in later life.

Instead, I tend to point my finger to the very first social institution we encounter in our existence: our parents.

It is all too well to procreate, but when it comes to teaching values, social strategies and life philosophies to our sons and daughters: how many of us have clear ideas? How many of us know exactly what to do and how to do it? How many of us have the time or the will to do it well? Not many parents are able to smartly and compassionately help build the necessary emotional and rational mind in their children, especially in the flourishing relativism of the last few decades. Some parents can’t even clothe or feed their kids. Some others just don’t give a damn. Abuse, of all kinds, is a sad, horrible and quite common denominator in many children’s lives.

A newborn child is like a white page but nobody seems to know exactly what, how or when to write on it, so, different hands, different users with different purposes write things on it. The child is to receive a fairly random (and partisan) shower of data, of opinions, of prohibitions, of traumas, of neurosis etc that will eventually determine and regulate his adult life.

As for me, a confessed dysfunctional son and self-blamed dysfunctional father, I keep photographing street children and recording their sincere utopias, hoping that observing their candid, intense expressions, permeated with drama and joy and trauma no words could express better, will teach us adults more respect and induce a clearer recollection of a similar drama, joy and trauma we also possibly once experienced as children, until we allowed ourselves to forget and inexorably “grow up”.

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