FLAVIO by Gordon Parks


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In 1961 Flavio da Silva was an undernourished, asthmatic Rio slum child, an eleven-year-old symbol of Latin American poverty whom Parks photographed for Life. Readers responded spontaneously, sending money and offers of adoption, flying him to Denver for two years of medical treatment and securing a new home and sizable bank account for his family. But this is no frictionless happily-ever-after: adult hopes for rerouting his development were outsized and unrealistic, the long-term consequences of their intervention mixed, for they raised his expectations beyond the level of plausibility. Although he flourished here--recuperating, learning English and standard Portuguese, easing up on his defenses--trauma marked his unwanted return home. No longer lionized or treated deferentially, he flunked out of school, spurned his slovenly family, and nursed dreams of a permanent reunion with his American friends. Parks found him recently, at 27, hard-working, happily married, fastidious--even obsessively so--in his home and personal habits, still anticipating a move north with a big welcome. An imperfect outcome, perhaps, in terms of his individual development but not for his children: Flavio was able to give them not just the physical necessities he missed but also less tangible comforts--stability, educational opportunities, good parenting. Parks' narrative, reproducing all sorts of unrecorded conversations, is fluent and involving, touching on the more problematic issues of the experience and using then-and-now photographs to dramatic effect.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1977
Publisher: Norton