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Sunday, April 14, 2024

I grew up in Kensington, Philadelphia. Let’s not glamorize habit — once more : Pictures


Guillermo A. Santos on his highschool commencement day in 2021, together with his father, Guillermo Jose Santos. The elder Santos died later the identical 12 months of a drug overdose.

The Santos-Honkala Household


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The Santos-Honkala Household


Guillermo A. Santos on his highschool commencement day in 2021, together with his father, Guillermo Jose Santos. The elder Santos died later the identical 12 months of a drug overdose.

The Santos-Honkala Household

In 2021, after years of societal neglect and denial across the situation, the variety of overdose-related deaths within the U.S. reached greater than 100,000, the biggest it had ever been. A kind of individuals was my father.

In December of that 12 months, his life was lastly taken from him by a deadly cocktail of heroin and fentanyl after a lifelong dependency. It is a story that many Individuals, particularly these within the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington the place he lived and I grew up, know nicely.

For those who search for movies of the worst of the opioid epidemic, you will note Kensington’s “zombies.” Individuals appear to go to sleep standing up, lingering underneath bridges and close to subway stations. They stagger with needles nonetheless of their arms or hunch over within the pains of withdrawal, generally immobile in the course of the road making an attempt to maintain standing. In these movies, you possibly can see the home the place I grew up.

It’s a home in an intensely red-lined neighborhood. I went to high school on-line and I studied music throughout city, in a extra prosperous a part of Philadelphia. I had “buddies” from my music courses who would by no means go to my home out of worry of all that lay inside Kensington. Opting to avoid the horrors of drug use related to my area, they as a substitute occupied Rittenhouse Sq. in Middle Metropolis, an area park that offered them ample protection to smoke pot and cigarettes however did not scare their dad and mom or nannies as a lot.

In my very own youthful desperation for the approval of those friends, I as soon as tried to host a small occasion for these individuals at my home whereas my mom was out of city. I went by means of numerous hassle and everyone advised me they had been coming. I met individuals on the subway and walked them to my home. However out of all invited visitors it was solely the opposite minorities within the group that got here. And it shortly turned obvious that nobody else would.

The writer as a child held by his dad. Guillermo Jose Santos was 26 when his son was born.

The Santos-Honkala Household


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The Santos-Honkala Household


The writer as a child held by his dad. Guillermo Jose Santos was 26 when his son was born.

The Santos-Honkala Household

Over texts they claimed that they did not know I lived in Kensington and had they recognized, they by no means would have promised within the first place. However in fact, they knew. It is why they’d by no means come earlier than.

I used to be indignant, and I let individuals know. I used to be advised to cease complaining; it wasn’t that massive a deal. One individual mentioned he knew what it was prefer to be a minority: “I am used to bizarre seems on the road. I dyed my hair inexperienced.”

Quickly after, on social media, we noticed that the white children I would invited had their very own occasion someplace else. However they took selfies, tagged me, and claimed to be at my home having a good time.

Flash ahead a number of years, and the friends who averted the realities of my impoverished upbringing once we had been youthful are actually spending their time in California, New York and even a number of blocks from my former residence in raver warehouses, dressing up like addicts. They publish and pose on social media, sporting distressed classic, “spouse beater” t-shirts they purchase on Depop and heavy eyeliner, all the higher to look sullen but cool. And it isn’t simply my previous verdant-haired friends. TikTok and Instagram Reels have limitless streams of individuals adopting this look. Snapshots from these events present them there standing immobile in the course of the dance ground, hunched over their telephones like a zombie in withdrawal, watching the like rely develop on their very own posts of them too pretending to be at someplace like my previous residence.

That is, in fact, not new. The identical impulse made earlier generations lengthy for tv appearances and their very own Warholian quarter-hour. It is a recurrent style development for the prosperous to put on the rags of the marginalized. When somebody pale, skinny, fairly and well-known will get hooked, condemnation flips to adulation and imitation.

You’ll be able to argue the aesthetic of “heroin stylish” was born in the identical metropolis I used to be. Mannequin Gia Carangi was born in Philadelphia and died there as nicely, of habit identical to my father. She is the place numerous the fixation on heroin’s “engaging” qualities come from, an early supermodel whose fame rose whilst medication and illness whittled her away. A whole new technology was launched to her from Angelina Jolie’s eponymous portrayal of her in 1998. She died in 1986 at 26. The identical age my father was once I was born.

Rising up, I confronted the painful juxtaposition of the individuals exterior my window, solid apart by society whereas on my tv, gossip information glamorized addicted celebrities. Whilst a toddler, it appeared clear to me that the one distinction between my neighbors and their identically addicted counterparts in California was wealth and coloration.

Right here, on the literal improper facet of the tracks of Philly’s blue Market Frankford practice line, there is no such thing as a glamour to be discovered amongst these with habit — no modeling gigs, no festivities, no solace or grace. And few sources to get out of the quagmire.

The commencement picture adorns containers holding the ashes of Guillermo Jose Santos, one in all greater than 100,000 Individuals who died of drug overdoses in 2021. That quantity was greater than 111,000 in 2023.

The Santos-Honkala Household


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The Santos-Honkala Household


The commencement picture adorns containers holding the ashes of Guillermo Jose Santos, one in all greater than 100,000 Individuals who died of drug overdoses in 2021. That quantity was greater than 111,000 in 2023.

The Santos-Honkala Household

My complete life my father lived trapped — in a metropolis that would not belief his brown fingers with a job, in a physique that withered away from AIDS, and in a thoughts that solely discovered temporary reprieves from the substances that held him in thrall. I constructed my relationship with him throughout these occasions when he may abstain for a number of weeks or months at a time. However they did not final. I don’t fault him for taking the identical path so lots of his friends did. I fault a system that gave them few different choices. And a tradition that once more tries to idealize habit.

My father’s overdose wasn’t stylish, so why are individuals making an attempt to appear like him?

The worst events I’ve been to have been stuffed with what the Washington Publish’s Robin Givhan first referred to as a “nihilistic model of magnificence” again in 1996. With out poverty, habit can afford to look cool. Crushing actuality for some may be seen as an aesthetic selection for the privileged.

They will afford to not understand how we reside, simply to select the elements that really feel like a pleasant sufficient departure from their day-to-day. They return to luxurious.

To these individuals, superiority is as a lot a drug as some other they eat.

Guillermo A. Santos is a disabled Puerto Rican and Native American author and poet from Philadelphia whose additional work may be discovered at GuillermoASantos.com or @guillermoasantos on Instagram. He now lives in New York.

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