American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Chantal asks why Fabiola spun around with the mug last night. Fabiola explains that she was saluting the four directions and Papa Legba, and then she asks if they’re going to New Jersey after school today. Chantal assures Fabiola that Matant Jo is handling it, and then she asks who Papa Legba is. As Fabiola tells her that Papa Legba is the lwa of the crossroads who can help Manman “come to this side,” Donna barges into the room in her pushup bra and asks for a pair of tights. Surprisingly, Donna looks fine after last night. Pri comes in behind her and asks Fabiola if she knows how to braid. While Donna looks proud of her breasts, Pri wraps hers tightly in fabric to make them disappear.
For Fabiola, the most important thing is still to fetch Manman; she doesn’t feel complete without her mother. Because of this, Chantal’s assurances don’t seem very useful or helpful. Chantal’s questions about Papa Legba also reveal that Matant Jo didn’t raise her daughters to follow the Vodou religion. In this sense, they’re moving away from their Haitian roots and are becoming more assimilated into American culture.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Chantal asks where Donna’s new underwear came from, but Donna just says that everything will be fine. Through gritted teeth, Chantal says that they have to save money for Fabiola to buy clothes and school stuff, which leads to in an argument. Fabiola, meanwhile, is just happy that there’s enough money to fight over. She heads downstairs to find breakfast and as she eats alone, she wonders if this is a sign. When Fabiola is finished, she goes to the living room and looks out the window. Across the street, there’s a short building with a sign that reads “LIQUOR BEER WINE PIZZA CHECK CASHING.” On the other corner, a sign reads “HOUSE OF GOD.” The signposts at the corner read “American Street” and “Joy Road.” The empty houses look like missing teeth, and they remind Fabiola of tombs.
Fabiola’s aside that she’s thrilled there’s money to fight over clues the reader in to how poor she and Manman were in Haiti. Even if Matant Jo’s family is struggling financially, they still look well-off to Fabiola. But the fact remains that Fabiola still feels alone and unmoored in her new home. The signs she sees out her window symbolize the questionable existence of the American Dream. The intersection of American Street and Joy Road should seemingly bring joy and prosperity—but the houses that look like tombs suggest that the people who’ve lived here never got that joy or prosperity.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Pri comes downstairs dressed in baggy khakis and an oversized white button up. She asks Fabiola to braid her hair as Donna walks by in full makeup. When Fabiola asks if Donna is going out later, Pri explains that Donna “dresses like a ho.” Chantal announces that they have 10 minutes before it’s time to leave. Fabiola only remembers seeing one car out front, and she asks when Matant Jo is going to work. Chantal and Pri say that she’s working now—and she worked hard to get Fabiola here from Haiti. When Fabiola is done with Pri’s hair, Pri asks Fabiola to redo it. Donna quips that Pri wants them to look like boys’ braids. Fabiola asks why Pri wants to look like a boy, but Pri that she wants to look like herself—and it’s too cold to wear “short-ass skirts.”
Fabiola’s cousins make it clear that Fabiola shouldn’t ask about Matant Jo’s work. This makes it ambiguous as to what, exactly, Matant Jo does to earn money. Pri is similarly secretive about her gender expression and how she wants to present herself, though Fabiola simply seems curious rather than judgmental.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Fabiola wants to twist Pri’s lips for using such foul language, but she takes her time with the braids. She needs Pri to like her. Fabiola mentions the fun phone conversations she and Pri used to have, but Pri just says that they’re adults now. Chantal suddenly turns up the TV. All three cousins gather around as a news anchor reads that a 17-year-old student died of a “lethal cocktail of designer drugs.” The cousins exchange stares, and then Pri snaps that the white girl did it to herself. Chantal points out that a Black girl was murdered last month, but it didn’t make the news. Finally, Chantal turns off the TV and ushers everyone to the car. Fabiola tries to finish Pri’s hair as she and her cousins argue on the drive. Later, Pri shares her story with Fabiola.
This news story is clearly disturbing for Fabiola’s cousins. Chantal alludes to the fact that when Black people are victims of violence, it’s much less likely that they’ll be taken seriously or that others will empathize with them. She implies that this is why the Black girl’s murder didn’t make the news, while this white girl’s death did. Meanwhile, as Fabiola takes her time with Pri’s braids, she tries to ingratiate herself with her cousins and figure out more about who they are.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
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