American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Fabiola’s first Saturday night in Detroit, loud music blasts all through the house. Matant Jo wears tight jeans and a bright shirt as she entertains four smoking, cursing men in the living room. Fabiola is hungry, but she avoids going downstairs. She knows that Manman won’t believe that Fabiola has been hungrier in Detroit than she ever was in Port-au-Prince. Fabiola and her cousins are going to a birthday party tonight, so Fabiola has on a too-tight dress. Pri studies Fabiola’s altar and asks if it works. Fabiola replies that she and Manman asked the lwas to protect their Detroit family every day, and that Manman has been looking for answers as to why God took Uncle Phillip away from Matant Jo. Pri tells Fabiola to never say her father’s name again, and Fabiola agrees, even though she’s been praying for Uncle Phillip for years.
It’s still comforting for Fabiola to think of what Manman would say in any given situation. Manman’s imagined reactions are be predictable and comforting, and fixating on them helps Fabiola connect with her mother—and, by extension, with Haiti. Pri is clearly curious about Fabiola’s altar and religious beliefs. This suggests that she’s open to learning more about Vodou and connecting to Haitian culture that way, even if she doesn’t like Fabiola’s answer. For Fabiola, though, her answer is the simple truth: in her mind, Vodou is real and everywhere, and it’s the reason her cousins are alive.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
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Donna bursts in with a basket of hair supplies. She gets to work on doing Fabiola’s hair and makeup—when she’s done, Fabiola has fake hair, fake eyelashes, and perfect eyebrows. Pri and Matant Jo applaud the transformation, but Chantal shakes her head. Fabiola wonders if putting a picture of herself looking like this on the internet will make Manman show up just to smack her. Chantal drives everyone to the nightclub, but she doesn’t stay. The club has a purple door with a big Q on it. On the street, Pri and Donna’s friends come over to say hi. They make Fabiola nervous, as they remind her of scary men who frequented clubs in Petionville. The guys all look like the vagabon Manman warned her about.
Even if Fabiola implies that she’s no stranger to nightclubs, her experiences with clubs in Haiti leave her unable to really enjoy this night out with her cousins. Instead, she’s constantly on high alert and clings to Manman’s advice to look out for herself. It’s telling that Fabiola remains on high alert and is so nervous around her cousins’ friends, as this suggests that she doesn’t trust her cousins enough to trust these friends.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
As Pri drags Fabiola inside, Fabiola locks eyes with a vagabon—it’s the boy who helped Bad Leg, and he’s only a bit older than Fabiola. Inside the club, the men wear coats while the women are dressed in short, shiny dresses. Fabiola accepts a red plastic cup because she’s thirsty, but she doesn’t like the alcohol in it. Everyone in the club knows all the words to the music and dances just right. Suddenly, a guy with an eye patch steps close to Pri and tries to hug her. Fabiola realizes that this is Dray, the guy who hit Bad Leg. His face makes Fabiola think he’s “been to the underworld and back.” He looks like a malfekté—someone who’s truly evil. When he shakes Fabiola’s hand, it feels like “shards of glass.” Dray pulls Donna and the other boy close, as though he owns them.
Once Fabiola is inside the club, she feels even more out of place. Unlike all the other people here, she doesn’t know all the words to the songs, nor does she know how to dance properly. Dray’s frightening appearance makes matters worse. Trying to hug Pri, as well as pulling Donna and the boy close, suggest that Dray feels powerful and in control of his neighborhood. It’s nothing for him to invade another person’s space.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Donna introduces Fabiola to the other boy, who intentionally mishears Fabiola’s name and calls her Fabulous. He introduces himself as Kasim, which makes Fabiola laugh because it sounds like the Creole word for “break me.” She calls him Broke and turns away; if he’s involved with Dray, she wants nothing to do with him. Fabiola is still wearing her coat because she’s self-conscious about her short dress. She wishes that Chantal were here. Fabiola watches Pri dance in the middle of a circle, and when Fabiola tries to mimic Pri’s fast movements, Kasim laughs at her. He offers to show her the Detroit Jit. Fabiola walks away until she catches sight of Donna and Dray. Dray has an arm around Donna’s neck like he’s choking her. When Kasim comes up beside Fabiola, she asks why Dray is treating Donna like this.
Fabiola’s loyalty to her family only goes so far, since she wants nothing to do with Dray or any of his friends. This is why she can’t accept Dray’s abusive treatment of Donna—she knows it’s wrong, and she won’t give Dray the benefit of the doubt just because Donna loves him. But even though Fabiola feels out of place, she still wants to try to fit in. This is why she attempts Pri’s dance moves: if she can learn to move her body the right way, she’ll look less like a newcomer.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
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Kasim explains that everyone calls the couple D&D, like Dungeons and Dragons—Donna is the dragon, and Dray is taming her. Kasim says that he and Fabiola won’t have a relationship like that. Fabiola laughs and explains why she called him Broke. They dance, but Fabiola watches Donna and Dray instead of Kasim. When a slow song comes on, Fabiola’s heart beats fast—she feels as though Manman is watching her. She notices Pri staring from across the room, which makes Kasim laugh. He asks if Fabiola is going to let Pri “cock block,” which offends Fabiola. She insists that she isn’t going to have sex with him, and then she walks away—but Kasim stays close for the rest of the evening. Fabiola feels like there’s something pulling them together.
Kasim’s acceptance of the fact that Dray abuses Donna suggests that, unlike Fabiola, his loyalty allows him to excuse all kinds of bad behavior. He might not think it’s right—his aside that he wouldn’t treat Fabiola poorly suggests that he knows it’s wrong—but his friendship with Dray means he’ll stand aside and let Dray be violent. As Fabiola thinks of Manman watching her, it’s almost as though Manman is making sure that Fabiola knows to stay loyal to her family, rather than to a boy she just met.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
As the club empties, Fabiola realizes that she’s alone. Kasim brings her coat to her and leads her outside. There, Pri is yelling at Dray while Donna crouches on the ground. Everyone stares as Pri shouts that Donna should’ve left Dray a long time ago. Dray offers to take Donna home, but Pri refuses. Donna asks to go with Dray and falls into the front seat. Chantal pulls up and acts like this has happened before. Kasim offers to ride with Dray, and Fabiola surprises herself by offering to accompany Donna too. Outside Matant Jo’s house, Bad Leg is singing. Fabiola leans forward and tells Dray to not hit Bad Leg again. But according to Dray, nobody cares about the old man. Fabiola and her cousins enter the house as Bad Leg sings a song about hitting and fighting.
Pri’s anger may be more justified than Fabiola previously thought. Given how much time the twins spend together, it may fall to Pri more than anyone else to make sure that Donna stays safe. This gives Fabiola an opening, though, given that she’s the same age as the twins. She’ll be in the same social circles, unlike Chantal, so she may be able to step in and take some of the responsibility off of Pri’s shoulders.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
At home, Fabiola writes a letter Manman, telling her that she feels more connected to Manman now that she’s been calling on the lwas. Fabiola has a vision of Manman crying and wonders why Manman is being punished. Maybe it’s because she’s a mambo—a Vodou priestess—or maybe it’s because Fabiola let a boy touch her the night before they left. Maybe Ezili, the lwa of fertility and love, is mad and summoned Papa Legba to block Manman’s freedom. Then, Fabiola writes that Matant Jo misses Manman so much that she can’t do anything herself.
Praying to lwas that Manman previously prayed to with Fabiola makes Fabiola feel more at peace, and as though she can get through this. As Fabiola wonders if the lwas are punishing them, she also tries to make sense of the situation in a way that’s more familiar to her. Vodou spirituality is more understandable than the bureaucracy of the U.S. immigration system.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Related Quotes