American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on American Street can help.

American Street: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Detroit seems impossibly dark; Fabiola can’t see much of the city where she was born. She wonders if mansions like she saw on TV will sparkle in the dark, but the car is moving too fast. Chantal drives, while Donna admires herself in the rearview mirror from the passenger seat. In the backseat next to Fabiola, Pri stares at her phone. Everything is silent until Chantal turns the music up loud enough for Fabiola to feel it deep inside of her. It doesn’t distract Fabiola from her thoughts of Manman, however. Nevertheless, Fabiola tries to savor the experience of being in Detroit—she’s living the “good life” now. Chantal pulls off onto a small street, where there are no mansions and instead and the houses are close together. Donna welcomes Fabiola home.
Fabiola has an idealized understanding of what life in the United States is like. In her mind, the houses are supposed to be big and luxurious. Because of this, it’s a shock to get out of the car in a neighborhood where the houses are cramped, and the lots are small. This seems to be a lower-income neighborhood, which will no doubt challenge Fabiola’s preconceived notions about the U.S.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
The front door of the white house on the corner opens. The face inside looks like Manman’s, but rounder—and this face doesn’t smile. Instead, half of Matant Jo’s face is frozen as a result of her stroke. Manman was supposed to be here to take care of Matant Jo. Matant Jo takes Fabiola in her arms and then asks where Manman is. Fabiola replies that they’re detaining Manman, while Chantal and Donna ask why the government would send Manman to New Jersey just to send her back to Haiti. When Matant Jo sees the four big suitcases, she looks defeated. She says that she’ll try to help, but things are complicated. In Creole, Fabiola tells her aunt that they’ll find a way. Sharply, Matant Jo tells Fabiola to speak English and asks if Fabiola actually attended the English school she paid for.
Fabiola’s first experiences with Matant Jo are disheartening. It must hurt to see Manman’s face in Matant Jo’s when all Fabiola wants is her mother, especially when Matant Jo is clearly unwell. And even when Fabiola tries to look on the bright side and make everyone feel better, Matant Jo scolds her for speaking Creole and calls Fabiola’s education into question. This sends the message that if Fabiola wants to earn her aunt’s approval, she’ll have to assimilate to American culture rather than be who she is.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola assures her aunt that she did, but then she uses another Creole word. Matant Jo shouts at Fabiola to use English. Pri argues that Matant Jo shouldn’t be so hard on Fabiola, since she now has a “good girl” again. (Chantal was the golden child, but Matant Jo is disappointed that Chantal is attending community college instead of a fancy university.) Chantal notes that there would be no one to look after Pri and Donna if she left. Fabiola decides that Chantal will be her role model. Matant Jo asks Fabiola if she’s hungry, and when Fabiola answers in Creole, Matant Jo threatens to charge Fabiola for every Creole word. She asks Fabiola to call her Aunt Jo and to not be uptight about English.
The fact that Matant Jo wants a “good girl”, and seems to value college so much, suggests that she has high hopes for her daughters. It’s difficult for her to see them fall short of her expectations, as when Chantal chose to go to the community college rather than attend a university. From Pri’s perspective, Fabiola represents a fresh start for Matant Jo. But, in reality, Fabiola’s insistence on speaking Creole may remind Matant Jo too much of Haiti.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Matant Jo leads Fabiola into the kitchen while Pri, Donna, and Chantal turn on the TV in the living room. Fabiola loves that her family owns such a luxurious home. In the kitchen, Matant Jo puts a few pill bottles into her pocket. When Fabiola asks if she’s okay, Matant Jo says that she had a stroke. She knows that Manman would say that death owns half of her. She brushes off Fabiola’s concern and points to the kitchen appliances. Without smiling, Matant Jo says that uncle Phillip bought this house, and now, she’s happy to share it with Fabiola. Her voice is dry and lifeless. Matant Jo leaves the room and doesn’t come back.
Matant Jo’s seems hopelessness, and she makes no effort to comfort Fabiola. Interestingly, though, she acknowledges how Manman would see this situation: as part of her spiritual world. Even if Matant Jo seems very American in some ways, she still has the ability to empathize with how Fabiola and Manman’s perspectives. In this sense, Matant Jo has a foot in each world; she’s still negotiating her identity as a Haitian American woman.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire American Street LitChart as a printable PDF.
American Street PDF
Fabiola listens to her cousins in the living room and has no idea what to do. She feels alone and like a burden. This isn’t how one is supposed to treat family—no one has even offered her a glass of water. If Manman were here, she’d make a meal for everyone. Fabiola opens the fridge and freezer but finds only condiments and frozen pizza. She grabs a slice of cheese and jumps when Pri comes into the kitchen. Pri says it’s time for bed, since Fabiola will start school tomorrow. The cheese, which Fabiola eats on the way upstairs, is disgusting. At the top of the stairs, Chantal points to the room that she and Fabiola will share, the twins’ room, and the bathroom. Chantal warns Fabiola to be smart about the bathroom, since Donna takes forever with her “fake face and her fake hair.”
Here, Fabiola implies that she expected to find a robust, traditional Haitian community in Detroit. Instead, her family members are inhospitable and “fake”—and, in Fabiola’s estimation, downright rude. This compromises Fabiola’s trust in her aunt and cousins, given that they’re not as warm or relatable as she expected them to be. And this, in turn, makes Fabiola miss Manman even more, since she knows that Manman would be able to comfort her.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Chantal asks if Fabiola used an indoor or outdoor bathroom in Haiti. Embarrassed, Fabiola says that it depended on whether they had electricity. Chantal asks if they still have latrines in Haiti, but then Pri yells for them to stop talking about poop. The sisters yell at each other until Matant Jo shouts for them to stop. With a smile, Chantal leads Fabiola to her bedroom, which is warm, neat, and filled with books. Donna appears in the doorway, dressed to go out. Chantal begs for Donna to not go out with someone named Dray if he’s going to race, but Donna says that Dray thinks she brings him bad luck. When Chantal points out that this is mean and disrespectful to her, Donna leaves the house. Chantal tells Fabiola to not get involved with Donna, and Dray and assures Fabiola that they’ll get Manman soon.
Chantal distinguishes herself as the levelheaded, sensible sister of the trio. In this way, it’s easy to see why Fabiola feels connected to her—Chantal is the kind of girl Fabiola wants to be. Donna, on the other hand, seems out of control, or at least irresponsible in her decision-making. The implication that Dray is dangerous also lets Fabiola know that Detroit may be more dangerous than she expected.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
By 1:30 am, Fabiola is ravenous. She hasn’t slept well all week, since she attended so many going-away parties. Fabiola gets up to light a candle to lead Manman back to her, but she has no matches. Downstairs in the kitchen, Fabiola pockets a lighter and hears a man singing outside. The song is joyful. She pulls back the curtain and sees an old man sitting on a bucket, singing a song in which he welcomes someone to the “City of the Dead.” As the man finishes, a white car races around the corner and stops. A man gets out of the car, shouts at the singing man (whose name is Bad Leg) to shut up, and he starts punching and kicking Bad Leg. Fabiola wants to forget all of this.
Bad Leg’s joyful song seems to comfort Fabiola. Seeing the other man beat up Bad Leg, however, shatters this moment. It drives home that there’s danger everywhere in Detroit—even right outside of Fabiola’s house. It also doesn’t appear as though Bad Leg did anything to provoke the beating—his attacker is just angry and lashing out.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Another man gets out of the car, calls the punching man Dray, and helps Bad Leg up. At the same time, Donna gets out of the car, obviously drunk. Fabiola tries to make herself invisible as Donna stumbles into the house and up the stairs. Disturbed, Fabiola wants to tell Manman that they have to go back to Haiti, since Detroit is no better. Back in Chantal’s bedroom, Fabiola moves some books aside so she can set up a shrine. She pulls out her magic objects, fills the mug with water, and lights a candle. Fabiola calls on her spirit guides to bring her closer to Manman. She wonders what Manman would say.
Here, Fabiola learns that Dray is bad news on many fronts: he encourages Donna to drink too much, and he’s angry and violent for no reason. Seeing Donna involved with a person like this makes Fabiola understand that the United States isn’t a utopia—it’s just as messy and dangerous as Haiti was.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
In a letter to Manman, Fabiola writes that this is her first night away from Manman. She writes that when she looked into her candle earlier, she saw a vision of Manman. Manman told her to trust every sign from the lwas—but Fabiola thinks she hasn’t heard anything from the lwas since Manman was detained. Fabiola can see that Manman is sleeping in a bunk bed and has made other Black friends in the detention center. They all speak “a broken French.” Fabiola writes that when Manman gets here, they’ll speak Creole so that Fabiola can remember home.
At this point, Vodou is a way for Fabiola to feel more connected to Manman and to feel like she’s in control of her life. And indeed, Fabiola is able to have a vision of Manman in the detention center. But the fact remains that Fabiola still feels like the lwas (the Vodou spirits) have abandoned her. For now, Fabiola feels like she needs Manman around to connect to her spirituality and culture.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon