American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fabiola wakes up to pounding on the front door. When she goes to the window to look out, Chantal whispers for Fabiola to get down. Chantal, Pri, and Donna are all up; they tell Fabiola to stay upstairs while they answer the door. Fabiola creeps to the top of the stairs to watch. It’s not Dray at the door; it’s a thin older man with two others who are both tall and wide. They step in, and the old man points out that the girls have been ignoring him, just like Donna is ignoring Dray. Pri calls the man “Q” and says that they’ve been lying low with everything on the news. Chantal adds that they don’t want to get Uncle Q in trouble. Fabiola takes stock of all she knows about Uncle Q, and she deduces that Uncle Q is a drug dealer.
“Everything on the news” is vague, but the only news Fabiola has mentioned thus far is the white girl who died of an overdose. If Uncle Q is somehow connected to the girl’s death, this supports Fabiola’s suspicion that Uncle Q is a drug dealer. That Chantal, Pri, and Donna are somehow in cahoots with Uncle Q also calls their activities into question. His arrival at the house in the middle of the night seems like a power play, so the girls could be in danger.
Themes
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Uncle Q says that he’s here to collect, but Chantal says they need more time—they tossed the last batch because it was messed up. Fabiola can’t breathe as Uncle Q says that he still needs $20,000. This is $5,000 more than he usually requires, but he says he that needs more as “insurance” to protect himself, since the girls “g[o]t that white girl killed.” Pri insists that it’s Uncle Q’s fault the girl died, since he sold them bad drugs. When Uncle Q remains firm that it’s not his fault, Chantal icily says that they won’t have a deal anymore if business dries up because their drugs killed someone. The words echo in Fabiola’s head, and she realizes that Detective Stevens is wrong: Fabiola’s cousins, not Dray, sold the drugs that killed the white girl. He can’t go to jail if he’s innocent.
Though Detective Stevens might not be wrong about Dray being a drug dealer, Fabiola discovers that she is making assumptions about which drugs Dray is responsible for. Even if Detective Stevens is supposed to represent law, order, and justice, Fabiola sees that she doesn’t. As Fabiola puts this together, she finds herself at another crossroads. If her cousins are the ones Detective Stevens is after, can she give them up? Her sense of loyalty might suggest that she shouldn’t, but Detective Stevens did make it seem like Fabiola’s duty as an American to help catch the dealer.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola wonders if he should tell Detective Stevens the truth, but she knows she can’t. That will put her cousins in jail and won’t bring back Manman. She feels ready to fall over as Uncle Q insinuates that Matant Jo didn’t teach her daughters to count money. He insists that he needs the money by the end of the month, taps Pri on the temple, and curses at her when she pushes him away. Chantal and Donna pull Pri back and wait for the men to leave. Once the men are gone, Donna wonders how much Matant Jo has and suggests they ask Dray for help. At this point, he doesn’t even know that they deal drugs. Pri, however, sarcastically applauds Donna for not selling them out to Dray.
In this moment, Fabiola watches all her hopes unravel in front of her eyes. Now, she won’t be able to get Manman. This also suggests that Fabiola has little or no faith in the immigration system to get Manman out without Detective Stevens’s help. Meanwhile, Uncle Q’s behavior toward Pri offers some insight into why Dray behaves the way he does. Like Dray, Uncle Q has no issue invading someone else’s space to intimidate them and get his way, and he probably taught Dray that this is an effective tactic.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Chantal shushes the twins and points to the ceiling, but Pri leaps up and finds Fabiola at the top of the stairs. Pri tells Fabiola to mind her own business, but Fabiola shouts that her cousins sell drugs. She gets in Pri’s face and says that it’s her right to know, since she lives here too. Chantal pins Fabiola against the bathroom door and says that it doesn’t concern her, but Fabiola knows that her cousins don’t understand. Now, Fabiola will never get Manman back. She calmly asks her cousins if they killed the girl on the news, and if Matant Jo has been sending drug money to Haiti. Chantal leads Fabiola to the bedroom and says that it wasn’t always drug money. When Pri objects, Chantal suggests that they’re supposed to be the Four Bees—a solid foundation of four, not a precarious pyramid of three.
Again, Fabiola feels like her world is ending. Her cousins aren’t the people she thought they were—in her mind, they might be just as bad as Dray. At the very least, Fabiola questions the generous checks Matant Jo sent throughout her childhood, since she grew up believing that those checks came from honest work. When Chantal sits Fabiola down to explain, it represents a new chapter of the cousins’ relationship—now, Chantal is going to treat Fabiola like an equal.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
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Fabiola asks how her cousins expect to get the money. Chantal explains that Uncle Q was like a father to them after Phillip died. Pri snaps that Uncle Q isn’t going to let $15,000 slide, but Chantal turns back to Fabiola. She says that Phillip was working for Q when he was murdered, just to make some extra cash. That’s why he died. Uncle Q had to pay up, so he gave Matant Jo $30,000 to help raise the kids. Matant Jo started giving the money away, but Uncle Q made her stop, and she turned to sharking. Uncle Q provided “muscle” to make people pay her back. Chantal says that Matant Jo did all of this for Manman and Fabiola. Fabiola’s school was expensive, and Matant Jo believed that Manman was building a mansion with all the money.
Chantal’s story about Uncle Q’s generosity is similar to Kasim’s story. Uncle Q seems to make a habit of supporting single mothers—and at least some of the time, the children of those mothers end up dealing for him. His generosity, then, seems to be motivated by his business rather than by kindness. When Chantal talks about Matant Jo’s turn to sharking, though, it becomes clear that taking jobs like this is sometimes necessary. In a system where the honest work that Fabiola dreams of doesn’t exist, this is all there is.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
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Chantal says that now, Matant Jo is sick, and they don’t want her to shark anymore—but they have to make money to live. Fabiola asks what they do now. Pri tells Fabiola to stay silent, and Chantal insists that Fabiola just focus on graduating high school. Chantal also promises that they’ll get Manman out. Fabiola feels like she’s at a crossroads again as she reminds herself that her cousins, not Dray, are responsible for a girl’s death. Hours later, Fabiola can’t sleep. She gets out of bed and goes down into the street. Bad Leg is nowhere to be found, so Fabiola turns in every direction to bow to every possibility. She figures that if Bad Leg is Papa Legba, and Dray is Baron Samedi; and if Donna is Ezili and Ezili-Danto, then Chantal and Pri can also be lwas. They’re all here to help.
Chantal makes the case that it doesn’t really matter where money comes from, when the fact remains that people need money to live. Because Fabiola’s family lives in an economically depressed city, and because they’re Black immigrants, there are fewer opportunities available to them, making it more likely that they’ll turn to sharking or dealing to get by. Once again, though, Fabiola finds comfort in prayer. And by deciding that each of her cousins can be a lwa sent to guide her, Fabiola opens herself up to become closer with her cousins and accept their help.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Fabiola runs back to the house, but it’s locked. She steps back and stares at the address, 8800 American Street. Somehow, the house seems different from the one that Fabiola has prayed about for years. She finally knocks on the door, but an old white man opens it. Fabiola runs back to the street and then knocks again on the door. It’s a white woman this time. When Fabiola knocks a third time, a young white man answers. The man points a gun in Fabiola’s face and shoots her. Fabiola wakes up screaming. She ties her hair with Manman’s scarf, works on her altar, and prays to Papa Legba.
Though this frightening experience turns out to be a nightmare, it nevertheless speaks to the violence that seems to be inherent to the house and to Detroit. It’s also telling that it’s a white resident of the house that shoots Fabiola: this symbolizes the violence and discrimination that Black people in the U.S. suffer as they go about their daily lives. Fabiola is just trying to get home—but even in her dreams, this is impossible.
Themes
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Related Quotes