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Oral history interview conducted by Manissa Maharawal
June 05, 2014
Call number: 2011.019.099
MANISSA MCCLEAVE MAHARAWAL: This is Manissa McCleave Maharawal interviewingSvetlana Kitto on June 5, 2014, at her apartment in Crown Heights as part of the Brooklyn Historical Society Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations Oral History Project. Svetlana, do you want to start by just telling me where and when you were born?
SVETLANA KITTO: Yeah. I was born in London, England. [Date redacted for privacy]
MANISSA MCCLEAVE MAHARAWAL: And is Svetlana Kitto your full name?
SVETLANA KITTO: My full name is Svetlana Julia Kitto, if you must know. (laughter)
MANISSA MCCLEAVE MAHARAWAL: So let's start -- do you want to start by telling meabout some early childhood experiences?
SVETLANA KITTO: Sure. What comes to mind? Well, I don't really have manymemories of being in England. I kind of don't think I have any, which sort of sucks. I came here when I was three and moved to Hollywood. We lived on a 1:00street called Formosa. This was like when Hollywood was really dingy and druggy, a very druggy place. And it still has that quality to it, but not nearly like it was. I remember that there was a Chinese restaurant on the street that I lived, and it had like a big lobster or something on the side of it. And we lived in an apartment. I'm probably conflating two apartments, I'm not sure, but it was me, my mom, my dad, and my parents had like no money. But they wanted to give me like a little space of my own, so there was a kind of 2:00closet in the apartment that they tried to make really beautiful for me apparently and painted. I think I remember that place, and I think I remember like trying to read there. (laughs)
My parents were drug addicts when I was a kid, like active drug users, so Idon't know like if I really -- basically what I remember of being like a really young kid is like -- I just remember it being dark. Like I remember things being kind of dark a lot, like in the house like. I just don't remember a lot of -- I don't have a lot of -- I mean, I think most people don't have memories like before they were like five or something. But I do have memories of 3:00preschool though, and that's when I was like three. So I went to a preschool called Christopher Robin, and, you know, I liked school, even when I was a little kid. I just liked school, I liked kids. I remember like naptime. I remember that was really hard for me to nap. I remember that there was a boy in my school named Matt who liked me, and he couldn't whistle, and so he would say "Treep troo" all the time, so he would be like treep troo to me. And I remember telling my dad that and him thinking it was so funny and like saying it to me all the time. My dad is English, and, you know, like I had a sense when I was a kid that my parents were foreign, and I have like thought it was so fun the way 4:00my dad was, and that was like this loud English person, and I half just wanted him to shut up all the time. And he was like, you know, very loud, just like a loud crazy person, like really extroverted. And I always had this like feeling with my dad that he was going to like make a joke and that it would like embarrass me. I mean, I'm saying that just because like I remember like with that little kid Matt, I remember like some sort of sense like "Oh, I hope my dad doesn't come to pick me up and like embarrass me somehow about that." And what else? I remember like the teachers at the preschool, this woman Maria, this woman Susan, and I remember like a lot of things being kind of like oriented 5:00around having to like go to the bathroom in preschool. It was like, "Who needs to go to the bathroom?" I don't know, it's just like I remember it was like a lot of like potty talk. (laughs) And-- yeah, in terms of early childhood, like early, early, I think that's kind of it. No, I remember I had a best friend named [Chantilly], and I remember like her a lot around my house. We would play like make believe games all the time. Like we were really sort of left to our own. Like we were really kind of like left to our -- like me and 6:00then once my sister was born.
So my sister was born when I was five, and I think the age of five was a sort ofbig deal because my sister was born, and my parents got sober. So starting from like five on, I remember a lot more stuff. But before then, for whatever reason, I don't know if I blocked it out, I don't know if I actually am just like just don't remember it, but I don't have like strong recollections of it, like vividly. But I remember the night my sister was born. I was -- I had an aunt who was my -- so my mom is from Latvia, she grew up in Latvia. She has a sister who lives like in the Los Angeles area as well, and they were not close, and it was always like they were so different from one another. My mom is thin, 7:00Sophie is big. My mom was like the talented star, Sophie was like the one who my grandparents were mean to or something like that. And my mom just had like a lot of sort of like animosity toward this person, and yet she took care of us all the time.
Like she was so -- like my parents were just not -- they were young parents,they were, like I said, drug abusers, and they were just not like very equipped to take care of young children. So they were always like sort of dumping us off onto like my grandparents or my aunt. And I remember having the sense of this and mentioning it just because it was like I remember like feeling like "You don't like my aunt, but you always leave us with my aunt." And she was -- so that, so somehow my mom, they moved here when I, when my mom was like 17 or something -- no, no, no, she was like -- sorry, that's not true. They moved 8:00here when she was 14. She went to high school at Hamilton High, which is like where I went to high school as well, totally coincidentally. And, you know, she describes it as like it was just so mind-blowingly crazy to her to be here. Like it was the '70s, there were lots of like big blondes with big breasts. It was like very like -- it was a very sensual time. (laughs) And my mom was like this scrawny Latvian child, like she was a kid. She wasn't a grown up at all, like at all.
She moved to the States, and she was just thrust into this public schoolenvironment, and she -- like I remember being at, like I'd be at my grandparents a lot, like my grandparents were like, you know, like they were just -- they 9:00didn't know what to do with kids, whatever, and I would just like be in their house sort of like entertaining myself, and I would just look at these pictures of my mom in high school. And like she had this like long blondish-brown hair, and it like so shiny and so straight and parted in the middle. She was so pretty, and I would just like look at her like sort of longingly like "Oh, I wish I was with my mom." I loved hearing about like her as a kid. So when she was in high school like she was obviously like really out of her element. She just hated it. And she didn't speak English, they didn't speak a word of English, and they had no money. My grandmother worked as like a seamstress, but when they first moved to the States she worked in some kind of sweatshop situation, and my grandfather, I think he worked -- I mean, he ended up working 10:00like in like some sort of manual labor job that was like shipping, and I think he was just doing work like that.
So I guess I should just talk about my grandparents a little bit. So mygrandparents, they moved to the States when they were in their '40s, and they had already had like a full crazy life before they came here. They were Holocaust survivors. My grandmother grew up in a very big family, like a kind of lower-class family, Jewish. They spoke Yiddish in the home. She had like nine brothers or something like that, and she had a mother, a stepfather, and I think her father -- her mother like divorced her father or something like that, 11:00which was really weird. Anyway, she grew up with a lot of shame about being poor. Those are the kinds of stories she told me about, like going to school and like being embarrassed of her jacket and like hiding her jacket so that people wouldn't see it and stuff. And just really being so obsessed with that, obsessed by that. And when she was like I want to say 12, but I'm not totally sure, she was walking home one day -- oh, also she told me once that like her parents -- I was interested in this because there's so much like addiction in my family. So I was interested in like -- and she's so like saintly and she's like -- cause my grandfather was like a pretty bad alcoholic, and she's like so saintly about herself. So when she was still alive I would ask her a lot about like what her parents were like, and they were apparently really into gambling, 12:00and she hated that. Like she would, when she was a very young child, she would like try and stop it from happening. Like she was -- I mean, my grandmother was like wonderful, but she was like a really controlling person, like "You should be like this." She was very bigoted about many things. I never came out to her. Like when my sister had a black boyfriend, my grandmother basically wouldn't speak to her. Like she was, you know, she had these really horrible bigoted ideas. And I fought her on it like most of my life, and then in the last few years of her life I just kind of like tried to just enjoy her and like not change her, cause it was like never going to happen. And I never came out to her, and that was fine. Oh, I'm gay. (laughs) I feel like I should say that, because it's like, what does that mean? Right, I'm gay. So, but anyway, 13:00it's interesting, like -- I'm, I guess, whatever, she -- so she grew up like a very oppressed person, you know, with no money and just trying to like piece together a very basic life of like eating, you know. And then when she was around 12 years old, she had just started going to school -- it's like really sad. You know, she had just started going to school. Somehow that happened. Like she always loved learning and wanted to learn and like be educated, and it was like somehow that happened, like maybe her stepfather managed to put her through school or they knew someone who worked at the school or something, some thing. And then all of it sort of fell apart when the Germans invaded Latvia. She was on her way home walking to her mother's house, and she heard gunshots, 14:00and she got really scared. She saw her Tyotya Sonya, who was her mother's sister, so she was my great aunt? Yeah. She was like fleeing the city to get on a train, and my grandmother was like, "Where are you going?" She was like, "Come with us," like "The Germans are here." Like "It's a shit show." Those weren't her words, but -- and my grandmother was like, "No, I can't do that. I can't leave my family." She started to walk toward the house, and that's when she heard gunshots, and she got really scared, and she turned around and got on a train to a village in Russia and spent the rest of the duration of the war at like some sort of work camp in Russia called like Polkor or something. I can't remember the name. And, you know, it was like, she was there with her, with 15:00Tyotya Sonya, and they -- she's like -- she told me a bit about it, like how it was like, you know, there were rations and like she learned how to like cheat the system a little bit so that she could get more food, get more bread, get more potatoes. Everything was like about bread and potatoes basically. She also told me a story about like how like someone who in some sort of position of authority had a thing for her. She was very beautiful. There were pictures of her over there. She was -- both my grandparents were very gorgeous people, and at some point, you know, I think she was like kind of like aware of her like sexuality, and she -- but she was -- like whenever she would tell these stories she would be like "But I never gave it to him." (laughter) "But I used it" 16:00kind of thing, like that was the insinuation.
Anyway, she didn't know what was happening with her family, but when she cameback she found out, and that was that her parents and her brothers were killed, like all of them murdered. And there were two sort of major kind of cleansing actions that happened in Latvia during the war where -- I mean, there was -- people were rounded up and put into a ghetto, was what it was called, and I'm pretty sure that they were in the ghetto, and then there were two kind of rounds of like mass murders where people were marched to forests and killed, gunned down like, you know, just another one of these stories of people like walking in the cold, having to -- like in the murderous cold and the winter and like having to un-- get naked, undress, and then just getting shot like en masse. 17:00
So I didn't really -- I grew up like knowing that my grandparents were Holocaustsurvivors, and that was like sort of my entire relationship to Judaism. Like we didn't celebrate holidays, like I didn't go to Hebrew school, like there was nothing Jewish about my life, because my mom also like has very complicated relationship to Judaism, you know, which makes sense. Because basically after the war my grandfather's story is that his parents were murdered, too, and his sister was like taken. He was put into the ghetto actually, my grandfather was. He didn't escape. Then he escaped the ghetto, then, you know, then he like went to a work camp, then he like joined the Russian resistance. He spoke a lot of languages, so he came from a much more educated family than my grandmother did. He spoke German, he spoke Russian, he spoke Yiddish, he spoke Hebrew. He spoke Latvian, they both spoke Latvian. So he was like able to outsmart people 18:00and like convince people that he was German or like, you know, these sorts of stories. And he joined the Russian resistance, and he ran away from the Russian resistance because he -- they wanted -- you know, they were going to put people on the front line, and it was like the Russian resistance was great because it was like a counterbalance to like German -- to Nazis, but at the same time it was like "You die for Russia," and like-- And it didn't care if you were Jewish or anything, and it had no sort of sensitivity to that sort of thing, like-- (laughs) There was just like Russians and Reds. So on one hand like I grew up with the, like being told that the Russians saved my grandfather's life, because they did, but on the other hand like he's Latvian, so -- my grandparents just had this very sort of mixed thing. Because on one hand they were Jewish, but on 19:00the other hand they were Latvian, and so they had like Jewish allegiances and then they also like grew up in Latvia and loved their country. Like they really had that feeling of loving their country, like -- which I think is sort of like a thing that I don't like identify with, you know. So they grew up loving their country and loving the traditions of it, as in like the foods and the costumes and the songs and like that kind of thing. But like they were Jewish, so they also had their own thing going on. And it was -- I think, my understanding of it is like it wasn't that there wasn't like anti-Semitism, but it was sort of -- like they were just around Jews, like my grandmother was. Then my grandfather was in like a different class. He just sort of got to like be privileged, you 20:00know what I mean? He was privileged. And then it was taken away, and I think it felt like a really big betrayal, because it was like people who were his parents' friends, like the, like the sheriff of the police, like sold them out and like took them to their death. So there was that sense that the Latvians were the -- like there was always like the Latvians -- the Germans, Germans came in for two days, and they didn't even have to stay because the Latvians were happy to murder us. But then, so all -- knowing all this, it's just interesting that after all this happened where there was like a 100,000 Jews, and they were murdered down to like 10,000 or whatever it was, that my grandparents returned to this place. I mean, where else were they going to go? People are always like, "Why did they go back?" and it's like such a like American way of looking at things. It's like, where are they going to go? They're Latvian. Like that's where they grew up. Like they're not going to like move to like 21:00Barcelona or something. Like you know what I'm saying? Like it's like -- so they went back, but it was like now it's Russian. Now it's Soviet, you know. We're all Russian or something. And so I grew up being told I was Russian. I was like Russian. I thought I was Russian. And then Latvia got independence, and then I was Latvian. I was Latvian and Russian, but then I wasn't Russian anymore, and like now I'm not Russian at all. It was like-- (laughs) But I always grew up with this thing about Russia, like I just -- and then it developed over time and maybe I'll talk about that.
Anyway, all of that to say that my mom was an immigrant in the States and veryembarrassed of where she came from, like very. Like, you know, my grandparents always said, "We lost her when like we moved here" and stuff. And -- cause she 22:00-- she just rebelled really hardcore, like-- She was a musician, a violinist, and very talented. It's kind of noisy here, isn't it? It's OK. Like very talented and like got scholarships and like went to Cal Arts, and it was like the '70s, and it was like Cal Arts had just started and it was just nuts. It was just like this school that was just so hippied out, and my mom lost her mind and had so much fun, and everyone was like naked all the time, and like that's how she describes it. And then she got into drugs, and it was like forget it.
But I think before any of that happened, like my -- the people who sponsored myparents to come, my grandparents to come into the States were my grandfather's cousin, Dell. Dell was like this classic American Jewish woman, like four nose 23:00jobs later kind of thing, like so Jewish American. I don't know, like it's a sort of a stereotype, but it's like her daughter, you know, was -- the story was that when she had her sixteenth birthday, like she -- there was like a Corvette with a pink bow around it or something like waiting for her, which is like, it just couldn't be any further from like what my family was like, like they just were not materialistic people, nor did they even -- like they grew up -- they, it was so like Soviet communist times, you know, so they didn't like, after the war they had just very humble lives. I think they were like in some ways very happy. Like they had a community. It's sort of hard for me to understand it, because I'm like how is it that you lived there -- anyway, how is it that you 24:00lived in Latvia and it was like -- how did you feel OK? But I don't know.
Anyway, so they had friends who were Jewish, who were not Jewish. They becameatheists, like they sort of denounced any sort of like -- I mean, it was also like Soviet times, but-- But my mom was blonde, and she didn't look like them, and I think she tried to like deny where she came from and stuff. Like she actually did, when she met my dad, told him that she was half Jewish, which was not true. She was fully Jewish. And she was very smart, and she like lost her accent and like, you know -- I don't think she was trying to be American though. 25:00It wasn't, it wasn't about being American. It was about being not what she was (laughs) and like being sort of I think cosmopolitan and like -- I think it was more about class than anything else. Because she was a violinist, and I think she was embarrassed of like my grandparents actually.
And my dad like came from such a different background. Like it just couldn't bemore different. He was English. He came from like a kind of aristocratic background, like his mother -- his mother's parents, her father was -- I don't really totally know the story exactly very well, but he was an imperial officer 26:00in the Raj, and he did some things. I don't really know all of them. He, you know, they lived in Peshawar at one point, like with my grandmother, Esther, and they raised her to be an aristocrat, and she like made choices to like completely separate herself from that stuff, which is sort of a weird way of putting it. Basically she got pregnant at a very young age and embarrassed them. And like it wasn't the '60s yet, but she was sort of behaving that way, like it was. Like my dad always like talks about like it being like the '60s started kind of like in the '50s -- it's like hard to say (laughs) -- and continued into the '70s. But anyway, so yeah, she's a really illustrious 27:00character, and I've written about my, this side of my family, both sides, because they're interesting. She just was kind of like trying to be bohemian, and she met my dad's dad, Francis, who was like a -- you know, he wasn't like an aristocrat, but he came from like an upper middle class family. He went to Cambridge. He studied classics. And basically they, and she, and, you know, so, yeah. I mean, there's, whatever, I could go on and on and on. I haven't even talked about myself. I don't know if I should. But anyway, I'm just going to keep talking, I guess.
But so her and my grandfather decided that they wanted to start a school. Mygrandfather was like a pilot in World War II, which was something my dad is very 28:00proud of, which is interesting because like I don't have those kinds of feelings, but it's interesting how proud of that he is. And he had studied classics at Cambridge, and she was sort of like flopping all around. I don't really know what she was doing exactly. I think she was working, Esther was working like in London. She was actually really good friends with Quentin Crisp. That was like one of her best friends. So they decided to start a school in like 1945 I want to say -- right after the war. There's a lot of this kind of like postwar idealism happening. So they wanted to start a school and sort of answer to England's like horrible school system. And there was a lot of like liberal schools popping up, and they like went with that and ran with it 29:00and like started a really crazy school that was like insane actually. And started with the most positive and beautiful of intentions, but ended up being like a real shit show, like with kids doing whatever they wanted, drugs, rampant drug use, abuse, and eventually like the school had to be like closed, because it was so far gone and insane.
And that's where my dad was raised, like in this sort of like -- so the kids whowere at the school were kids, so in England it was like, you know, kind of what you like think of like Charles Dickens and stuff. It was like kids who like grew up poor or kids who were abandoned by their parents just literally like had nowhere to go. So like their school like took in all these kids from all these sort of harsh backgrounds and were like, oh, yeah -- there was like no real 30:00structure, you know. It was just like -- it was just an experiment that was happening at a lot of different schools at that time. They took their cues from like -- I can't -- Summerhill, which was like the big, the first like liberal school in England. And it was an experiment that sort of really backfired, and my dad grew up in that environment, and he started using drugs when he was like eight. Like it was crazy times, and he was like, you know -- it was just a really -- it was, yeah. And basically like it ended up being kind of horrible, I think, really, and like all his siblings were abused, like -- I don't know how much to go into it, because it's kind of, whatever, but basically it was just -- it didn't work out. (laughs) And, you know, my dad -- so that's where my dad 31:00came from. He came from this sort of like, you know, English family that like ended up being sort of epitomizing some of the spirit of the '60s before it was the '60s kind of thing. Then he, my dad, was like a very -- you know, he was really into music. He played in lots of bands, did a lot of drugs, was kind of like, you know, like music was his thing, and literature. So yeah, they came from really different backgrounds. I feel like my dad -- I don't know. I mean, like I want to say like I feel like my dad had a lot of kind of-- Like, I don't 32:00know. Just to say like I think that, you know, he had some kind of like xenophobic ideas, my dad did, and I think that like my mom lying about being Jewish wasn't just because of her. That's my sense. Because my feeling growing up was like my grandparents -- my grandfather like really didn't like my dad, like really did not like him. And he'd always like tell me stories about him, like over -- my Jewish grandfather would like always tell these stories like over and over again about how "Did you know your father one time said to me that, said 'Why aren't Jews a race? Why don't you just call yourself a race?'" And I was like, OK, well, I don't really know what that m -- I know that that's 33:00bad, like I know a lot of people think that's bad. I don't really understand it though. Like he just had this feeling about my dad, that he was anti-Semitic. That was his feeling about my dad. But really the problem with him also was that he was nuts and wild, and my parents were fucking nuts like and wild, and they just wanted her to marry someone like normal, you know, and not like this rocker something something, like crazy person, like unstable person. Like they just -- my mom did not like do what they wanted her to do basically. They wanted her to be -- my grandmother. It was mainly my grandmother. My grandfather was always just kind of like mouthing off and angry, but really he was just drinking all the time, and that's what was going on. Like he wasn't as invested. But my grandmother lived through my mother when she was a child, and my mother was like 34:00a ballerina and a violinist and they gave everything to her to make her into like some kind of success, you know. Not even like a star, but just like a success. Because my grandmother had had her childhood like basically taken from her by the war and by so much poverty, so-- So for my grandparents, they were just like why -- to them, like my mother just like took all the opportunities and flushed them down the toilet. That was how they felt. But for her it was like she was just really suffocated by them, like she just felt really suffocated by them and like -- so she rebelled. Like sometimes I think she's still rebelling, which is kind of weird, because she's like -- because they're dead, and she's like in her late fifties at this point. But I feel like she's still finding herself in this way. But anyway, so that kind of influenced a lot 35:00like how I was raised, because I was raised very hands off, like my mom was like "I'm not going to like suffocate you." So when I was a kid I -- do you want to ask me any questions?
MANISSA MCCLEAVE MAHARAWAL: I was wondering how your parents met.
SVETLANA KITTO: They met at a party. They met at a party in LA, and I thinkthat they were really crazy about each other, like really really. And they would just like sit around talking, like that was their sort of thing. Like I feel like I've heard that described, like they would sit around talking for hours at parties, and just like they were very emotionally connected. They were also very passionate about one another. And they got married in Los Angeles, and then they moved to England because my dad had so much family there that they 36:00thought it would be -- like so many family and so much friends, so many friends, they thought it would be easier. He was a chef. My dad was a chef. And so they moved to England, but I think like the drug stuff was just too crazy and like having me. So they had me there. And then they decided to move back to Los Angeles to be near my grandparents, who compared to like all their family friends, you know, I think seemed pretty sane. Because like -- so my dad just like had this -- he like rolled deep. Like he had lots of family friends like who were like not -- I mean, I guess I'm calling them, they were like friends who were like family. Like when he was like 17 years old, he -- he hooked up with this woman named Antonia who was like 20 years older than him, and she 37:00already had like a brood of children who were like close to him in age. But she was with him -- he was with her for like 10 years, and, you know, she was like really into India. She would like go to India all the time, like English people do, you know? And then my dad went to India, and he just like really -- he was really, you know, interested in like spirituality, and like he learned a lot of that stuff from her. The relationship was very important to him, and those children ended up being like his children slash siblings. So those people are kind of like my somethings. I don't know what they are. And their children are like my cousins or something. So -- but it -- you know, so it was like a really like New Agey time, you know, with like just weird stuff going on and a lot of 38:00experimentation happening. And I think it was just sort of actually very toxic and like fucked up in lots of ways, but it seemed like enlightened or something. Anyway, so my dad was very much like a product of his time, you know, like he like got an Om tattooed on his hand and like he was really into Otis Redding. You know, he was just like in the '60s, whatever. He didn't like the Beatles, he liked the Rolling Stones, he -- So I think they -- yeah, so they met, and I think that my mom to him was like very -- I mean, my understanding of what my 39:00mom was like was that she was like very loud, very opinionated. She was like -- because English people are not that way, you know. And my dad kind of is that way, but like when I would go visit my English family I'd be like -- I just feel like no one is talking, and no one ever talks about how they feel, and like I feel so uncomfortable. Like I just feel like everyone hates me. Like that was my feeling. Like I would go -- not like all of them -- anyone who's listening -- but I just like some, you know, like I would just be like -- like a friend of mine said recently, like a German friend of mine was like, like she was living here and her visa ran out, and she had to go back to Europe. And she's living in London, and she was like "There's something about the English. They're just fundamentally ill at ease." And I was like, yeah, that's what it is. But my dad is not that way. Like he's very sort of American in how like emotional he 40:00is and direct. So -- and my mom is like -- they're just talking about themselves and their feelings like all the time. It's like constant, you know. So -- but anyway, so yeah, they were living in England. I think it was really rough. I don't totally know the content of it, but they came back to the States and like probably stayed with my grandparents for a while.
And then they got sober, and that was a really big deal. So this was like the'80s, and they -- we were in LA. And I have like a lot of memories of going to AA meetings when I was a kid, like in Hollywood, and it being -- like in my mind I sort of romanticize that time, for sure. I know I do. But -- But I just 41:00remember like the meetings in Hollywood. I remember like I would go -- you know, they took me -- they went to meetings all the time, so like I was at meetings all the time. And I was like -- I remember there was like, you know, a meeting that they would go to like in Hollywood on Gardner like, and there was this babysitter guy named Dennis, and he took care of us and he wore a skirt. They had lots of gay friends, my parents, like tons.
And my dad was a caterer at this point, so he had this like small cateringcompany, and he would do all the prep work like in our house. So the first sort of like major house that I remember is our house on Detroit. That was like also in Hollywood, like really in the heart of Hollywood. Like houses are so expensive there now. When I was living there, it was like drug dealers in front of our house every day and graffiti on the wall of like -- I remembe 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00 75:00 76:00 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00 86:00 87:00 88:00 89:00 90:00 91:00 92:00 93:00 94:00 95:00 96:00 97:00 98:00 99:00 100:00 101:00 102:00 103:00 104:00 105:00 106:00 107:00 108:00 109:00 110:00 111:00 112:00 113:00 114:00 115:00
Oral History Interview with Svetlana Kitto
Svetlana lives in Brooklyn and is one of the narrators for the Crossing Border Bridging Generations Oral History project. She is 32 and she is Latvian and English. She is a writer and an oral historian. She grew up in LA and has been living in NYC for the past 8 years.
Svetlana was born in London but has very few early childhood memories of living in London. Her family moved to Los Angeles, where she grew up, when she was 3. Her parents were "drug addicts" and she described her early childhood experiences from this time as "dark" and says that she often wanted a "normal American family" and feeling as if her family was foreign because her grandparents, her father and her mother were all from other countries. She narrated her grandparents experience during the Holocaust in Latvia, how her grandmother got on a train to leave the city with her aunt and learned after the war that her entire family had been killed and how her grandfather escaped by pretending to be someone else's child. She describes them moving back to their town in Latvia after this was over and how surprising this was to her-that they would go back to the place that they had to flee from earlier. She describes her mother moving to LA when she was 13 and wanting to be "normal" and how her parents met at a party in LA and fell in love. She describes her father's upbringing in England, in an aristocratic/ upper class British family but at an experimental school that was also on a farm/ a large piece of land. She describes this as an experiment that has gone wrong and says that it was a terrible place for many kids and that they started doing drugs there at a very young age. She describes spending time with her grandparents and aunt while growing up and how her life shifted when her parents became sober and when her parents got divorced and her mother moved out. She also describes going to visit her family in England when she was younger and being really excited about her family there, how she had a big family there and wishing that she lived closer to them/ they were her family in LA. She describes her mother's feminist politics and political discussions in her family and going to summer camp in which she learned about gender and privilege and politics and race and the emotional impact of this. She describes going to Santa Cruz for college and wanting to do what would "matter the most in the world" and not knowing what that was but also wanting to write stories and thinking that this didn't matter enough so not doing it. She remembers when a bunch of her friends at Berkeley joined a communist organization and describes talking theory about capitalism and what was wrong with the world. She describes being in relationships with men and feeling as if they weren't right and coming out at the age of 23. She also describes moving to NYC and discovering oral history and the way it lets people tell their own stories, going to an MFA program and hating it and trying to be a writer again as well as how her own politics have changed over the years and how she is now doing oral history and writing and feels that it is important to tells people's stories.
CitationKitto, Svetlana, Oral history interview conducted by Manissa Maharawal, June 05, 2014, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.099; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Kitto, Svetlana
- Drug addiction
- Gender identity
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- Queer theory
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Los Angeles (Calif.)
- United States
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection