American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Chantal drives Fabiola up to her new school, she points out that it looks like a haunted castle. Fabiola gets out of the car, into her first snowstorm, and thinks that everyone resembles “fat iguanas” in their coats. Everything here is gray and brown. Fabiola follows Chantal into the office and tries to hike up her skirt, muttering that girls in Haiti don’t wear skirts this long unless they plan to be lifelong virgins. As Chantal laughs, a white woman—the principal, Ms. Stanley—approaches Chantal warmly. Ms. Stanley is thrilled to meet Fabiola and speaks so fast that Fabiola can’t keep up. In her office, Ms. Stanley asks for Fabiola’s documents. Chantal gives Ms. Stanley an envelope and says that Matant Jo will be in with Fabiola’s documents later. Ms. Stanley nods, says that the documents won’t be necessary, and disappears.
Coming from tropical Haiti, seeing everyone wearing coats in the snow is a huge shock for Fabiola. This reminds the reader that a lot of what she’s experiencing is culture shock; she simply has no experience of dressing for the cold. Similarly, the novel drives home how far Fabiola still has to go with her English when she can’t understand Ms. Stanley’s rapid questioning. Fabiola implied that she and Manman spoke Creole at home and that she only spoke English at school, which means she’s at a disadvantage now that she has to speak English all the time. Meanwhile, the envelope that Chantal gives Ms. Stanley seems like a bribe, further suggesting that Matant Jo is involved in something illicit.
Themes
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola turns to Chantal, who explains that Matant Jo works hard to take care of everyone—she’s a bank. Seeing Fabiola’s confusion, Chantal explains that Matant Jo loans money and charges interest. Fabiola asks why she’s not going to a free school, but Chantal answers with a question: did Fabiola go to a free school in Haiti? She didn’t. Chantal says that Matant Jo thinks that free stuff is a trick. Ms. Stanley returns and walks Fabiola to her first class. Back in Haiti, thanks to Matant Jo’s money, Fabiola attended one of the best English schools. Here, the students are disrespectful. After class, Fabiola introduces herself to the girl next to her. The girl, Imani, recognizes Fabiola as “the Three Bees’ cousin.” Noticing the look Imani’s gives her, Fabiola doesn’t want to be associated with the Three Bees.
Fabiola specifically wanted to get a good education for free in the United States. But now, she has to confront the possibility that Matant Jo is right (that free things are no good) and that this aspect of the American Dream isn’t worth hoping for. Whether or not that’s true, Fabiola still finds herself disillusioned with school in the United States—even if she is at a private school. Here, paying money to attend doesn’t mean that students pay attention or care about their education, like Fabiola does.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Fabiola walks away, but Imani follows and explains that people expect Fabiola to be the Fourth Bee. Pri has been telling everyone to not mess with Fabiola. Fabiola tries to hide her smile but says that she’s not a bee. Imani advises Fabiola to be proud of having the Three Bees as family—they’ll make her royalty. In a low voice, Imani explains that Pri will fight anyone who messes with Donna. Chantal uses the connections from her rich high school to help people. Everyone thinks they do “voodoo shit” and hex people. When Imani asks if Aunt Jo is a voodoo queen, Fabiola laughs. But when other kids stare, Fabiola feels uncomfortable. For the rest of the day, she notices that her cousins are indeed treated like royalty.
Imani offers Fabiola important advice as Fabiola tries to figure out where she fits in at school. It’s understandable that Fabiola wants to create her own reputation, but Imani makes it clear that Fabiola will have a leg up if she publicly accepts the Three Bees as her family. Imani’s questions about the “voodoo shit,” however, suggest that the girls still experience some anti-immigrant sentiments and have to deal with people’s prejudices. But it’s also likely that Fabiola’s cousins are using these preconceived notions to their advantage by threatening people with hexes.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
After school, back at home, Fabiola feels lonely. As she eats a meal out of paper bags, she feels like the house wants to squeeze her. It feels like the exact opposite of the earthquake, when it felt like everything was falling apart—here, things seem like they already crumbled. Fabiola knows that she can’t let anything happen without Manman here, so she knocks on Matant Jo’s door. Matant Jo lets Fabiola in, shuffles back to bed, and says that her hands are tied. This country is like Haiti: people “talk out of two sides of their mouth.” When Fabiola asks outright if Manman is coming, Matant Jo won’t give a straight answer. Instead, she points to her dresser and asks Fabiola to fetch the Bible from it. Fabiola sits next to Matant Jo, and it feels almost like sitting next to Manman.
The earthquake Fabiola mentions is likely the real-life 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Fabiola would’ve been a young girl at the time of the earthquake, so it would’ve been a formative event in her childhood. Indeed, Fabiola thinks about life in Detroit in terms of the Haitian earthquake—she views everything through the lens of her experiences as a Haitian person. This reflects Fabiola’s status as an immigrant: she’s trying to meld together her Haitian and American identities, and to marry both with her observations of Detroit. Matant Jo, meanwhile, says that people in both countries “talk out of two sides of their mouth,” meaning that both Haitians and Americans lie or mislead people. This suggests that Haiti and the U.S. aren’t so different after all—and that Americans aren’t inherently superior to Haitians.
Themes
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
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