American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Fabiola breaks school rules and keeps her phone in her bag. Detective Stevens texts her that Manman will call at noon, so Fabiola hides in a bathroom stall with her phone during lunch. When Manman calls, Fabiola asks her how they’re treating her in the detention facility, but all Manman wants to talk about is Fabiola’s studies. She also asks if Matant Jo is sending money and a lawyer. Fabiola explains that Matant Jo isn’t helping; Fabiola is working for Manman’s release alone. Then, the connection cuts out, and Imani knocks on the stall door. Fabiola, feeling light and happy, tells Imani that she was talking to her aunt.
Manman could be so unwilling to talk about her experiences because she wants to protect Fabiola from the reality of what’s going on in the detention center. However, it’s also possible that Manman still has an idealized idea about what life is like in the U.S.—hence why she asks about Fabiola’s schoolwork and whether Matant Jo is sending money and a lawyer. It seems beyond Manman’s grasp to accept that her daughter is the one who has to work to free her.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
That afternoon, Fabiola knocks on Matant Jo’s door and lets herself in. Matant Jo throws a slipper at Fabiola and then yells for her to come in. The room is dark and stinks of alcohol and food. Fabiola tells her aunt that she spoke to Manman, and Matant Jo replies that Manman’s situation her is own fault—she’s always been hardheaded. She also says that she can’t help. Fabiola, however, asks why Matant Jo sleeps all the time—but Matant Jo just asks for a glass of water. Fabiola fetches her the water, and Matant Jo praises Fabiola for all her work around the house. Looking around, Fabiola wants to clean up Matant Jo’s room, especially the nightstand. It’s covered in pill bottles.
Matant Jo seems helpless and overcome with hopelessness. In her mind, it might not be worth attempting to get Manman out of the detention center—which suggests that when Matant Jo has tried to do things like that in the past, she hasn’t succeeded. Her experiences have taught her that it’s useless to try, especially when dealing with U.S. bureaucracy.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola asks Matant Jo what hurts, and Matant Jo says that everything hurts and asks if Manman was also in pain. Fabiola explains that Manman wasn’t in pain when they lived in Haiti, but she was tired of fighting for everything. She assures Matant Jo that the money was enough and they’re silent for a moment. When Matant Jo asks what Fabiola’s plan is, Fabiola says she’s going to get Manman—and she’s not tired of fighting. With a laugh, Matant Jo calls Fabiola Faboubou, like Manman does. Fabiola says that if Matant Jo is going to use that nickname, she’s going to call her Matant Jo, not Aunt Jo.
Fabiola walks a fine line as she tries to be appreciative of everything Matant Jo has done, while also making it clear that her inaction in this situation is unacceptable. Given how loyal Fabiola is to even her cousins, it’s unthinkable to her that Matant Jo would abandon her own sister in a detention facility. This, however, likely reflects Fabiola’s youth, naïveté, and idealism.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Matant Jo gets up and begins to change in front of Fabiola. Fabiola studies her aunt’s body: it looks swollen, and Fabiola has to help her aunt get the nightgown off her shoulder. Then, Fabiola gathers clothes and garbage. Fabiola sets her bundle down to help Matant Jo with her hair. As Fabiola braids, she explains that Manman was a mambo of some regard and insists that Papa Legba is on the corner. She knows that Matant Jo used to believe that too. Matant Jo laughs, says that Fabiola will learn, and points out that she and Manman needed her money in Haiti. Trying to make herself sound as American as possible, Fabiola says that she and Manman did well in Haiti, even without Matant Jo’s money.
Even if Fabiola is annoyed with Matant Jo’s behavior, she still wants to honor and appreciate her aunt for everything she’s done for her. One of the ways that Fabiola wants to help is by reminding Matant Jo that Vodou is real and everywhere, if only Matant Jo is willing to believe and look for it. Since Vodou provides Fabiola so much comfort, Fabiola believes it will do the same for others. Matant Jo, however, essentially makes the case that Vodou is useless.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
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Fabiola and Matant Jo begin to argue: Fabiola insists that she’s been praying for Matant Jo for years to thank her for her American passport, while Matant Jo insists that Manman should’ve stayed in Detroit after Fabiola was born. In Matant Jo’s mind, it’s Manman’s own fault that she’s in jail. Fabiola explains that Manman is in New Jersey, not in Haiti, and that it isn’t her fault—in fact, Manman wanted to come to help Matant Jo. Matant Jo says that Manman just finally came to her senses and tells Fabiola to stop braiding. Fabiola insists that Bad Leg is Papa Legba, and he’s going to open doors. Matant Jo harshly replies that this is Detroit—there are only junkies and dealers.
While Fabiola doesn’t blame Matant Jo for the fact that Manman is in a detention facility, she does make the case that Manman didn’t come to the United States for selfish reasons. Rather, she tried to come to help Matant Jo—so Matant Jo has some responsibility to help Manman in return. But in Matant Jo’s mind, Manman messed up years ago when she went back to Haiti with baby Fabiola. By blaming someone else, Matant Jo absolves herself of any responsibility.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
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