Survivor’s Guilt: Making It Out Of The Hood

Congratulations, you made it out of the ‘hood! But why does success feel so awkward? Why do you feel like an imposter when you visit the old neighborhood? You may be suffering from survivor’s guilt. The root of the issue may stem from an inherited legacy of struggle. A Latino childhood is so often filled with family narratives of migration, sacrifice, or financial hardship, and growing up in a poor neighborhood can stunt ideas of prosperity. It’s likely that you never imagined your future self outside of your immediate surroundings. But you managed to make it out. From allowing yourself to explore your feelings, to acting on those emotions in positive ways, here’s a guide to surviving the guilt.

The first thing to acknowledge is that studies show children who grow up in impoverished neighborhoods struggle to break the cycle of poverty as adults.

From a lack of education and access to healthcare to exposure to violence and trauma—emerging from poverty can seem like a game of chance. To add to these seemingly insurmountable challenges, the path to the middle class and beyond is an obstacle course shaped by racism, sexism, classism, and countless other –isms that serve to discriminate.

Even when you make it out of the ‘hood, you are met with a new set of challenges you never expected. If you went down the path of higher education then you probably graduated with tons of debt. Maybe you started off working at a video store back when VHS and DVDs were a thing and worked your way up to a cushy job in retail administration. You may be a boss, but you may be harboring feelings of imposter syndrome, bending over backward to fit the company culture. When you try to talk to your friends and family from the old neighborhood they don’t quite understand what you’re going through. The distance between you and them widens.

Sometimes you don’t want to look back. Does anyone get out of the ‘hood unscathed?

Children living in poverty so often experience worry and anxiety exacerbated by perpetual feelings of lack. If you lived in a neighborhood riddled with drug dealers and users, fear of walking to and from school likely shaped daily experiences. Scars left from a childhood in a poverty-stricken neighborhood broadly range from the physical to the emotional.

Looking back at the ‘hood makes you want to cry. Sure it makes you want to laugh too, because it wasn’t all bad, but to be honest, it was probably worse than you remember. Seeking mental health attention is often seen as a sign of weakness in the Latino community. A large part of Latino pride comes from having overcome pretty insane challenges that your colleagues and peers can’t even imagine. That’s nothing compared to what your grandparents went through in their barrio. However, there is nothing wrong with seeking help for your mental well-being. It is important to remember that your struggles are valid and that just because you live in a different circumstance doesn’t mean you don’t still feel your past.

After all this, it’s no wonder you avoid the ‘hood. Going back to visit family and friends can bring back feelings of fear, anger, and hopelessness.

You feel like you want to help your people out of the ‘hood, but the idea is immediately overwhelming. So you react. At first, you are careful not to talk about your success. You don’t invite your old friends and family to your home because you don’t want them to feel out of place. When you go back to the ‘hood you try to act as if you haven’t changed, but you have changed. So you create distance between you and the ‘hood. Here’s the thing—you don’t have to.

Credit: Nick Karvounis / Unsplash

First, they don’t need your pity. While you’re busy breaking the glass ceiling, they’re on their own hustle, and that’s something you have in common.

Remember when your parents used to send money and clothes back to la patria? You can give back too. Consider volunteering in your old neighborhood, donating, or setting up a youth program.

Credit: NeONBRAND / Unsplash

You’ve changed—embrace it. What was the point of your family’s sacrifice and all your hard work if you visit the old ‘hood and act like you haven’t learned anything? Inspire your people to do better, and be better—just remember not to be condescending. You’re not their savior, but you may be an inspiration. 

Credit: Erin Song on Unsplash

The old neighborhood may not even be there for much longer.

Back in 1994 we were all rapping along to Biggie Smalls, “Call the crib, same number, same hood, It’s all good.” Now, our old neighborhoods are gentrifying faster than you can say “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis.”

It’s tempting to keep it moving and forget your past, but your old neighborhood is a living thing—maybe a beast—but still, it deserves compassion. Hold on to the ‘hood as long as you can because it helped shaped you, and “you know very well who you are.”

READ: Exclusive: ‘On My Block’ Co-Creator Eddie Gonzalez Discusses How His Childhood Came To Life On The Show

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