American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Once Donna is tucked into bed, Fabiola and Pri play cards while Chantal reads. Fabiola asks if Dray hits Donna—after all, Bad Leg’s song was about an attack. But Pri explains that no one listens to Bad Leg because he’s crazy and a drug addict. When Fabiola asks why they call him Bad Leg, Pri offers Fabiola money to go ask; Bad Leg tells a different story every time. Much later, Fabiola lies awake. It’s 3:30 a.m., and she can hear Bad Leg singing. She gets up and listens carefully to his song, in which he offers to carry the listener’s load and mentions a dangerous lady dressed in brown. Fabiola slips downstairs, pulls on a coat and some boots, and walks over to the old man.
At this point, Fabiola finds Bad Leg fascinating because it seems like he’s adding something beautiful to an otherwise downtrodden community. He also seems to tell the truth when few others will actually acknowledge how dire the situation is. But Pri implies that she doesn’t see it this way—in her opinion, Bad Leg, may be harmless, but that doesn’t mean he’s doing anything good for the neighborhood.
Themes
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola greets Bad Leg and asks what happened to his leg. He responds by welcoming Fabiola to “American Joy,” and he tells her that he left his leg “on the other side.” Bad Leg went there to visit his daddy, who first came to Detroit in 1961 looking for money. His daddy ended up losing a leg to diabetes. When Bad Leg went to the “other side” to see his daddy, his daddy asked to borrow Bad Leg’s left leg. When a person visits the other side, Bad Leg explains, they leave their body behind, so it was no big deal to loan out his leg. But when Bad Leg got back home, his left leg didn’t work. Fabiola looks at this man sitting on a crossroads, with riddles and a cane, and realizes that Bad Leg is actually the lwa Papa Legba. Fabiola asks why he didn’t let Manman through, but Bad Leg closes his eyes.
Bad Leg’s story about his daddy illustrates yet another iteration of the American Dream, specifically as it pertains to Detroit. Bad Leg’s daddy came, presumably looking for work in one of Detroit’s many factories—but instead of becoming successful, he lost his leg and died. While someone else might listen to Bad Leg’s account of going “to the other side” and hear nonsense, Fabiola’s grounding in Vodou gives her a different understanding. Now that she knows this man is Papa Legba, she has someone concrete to pray to.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Fabiola races back inside to light a candle and pray for Manman. But instead of ringing her bell, she lets Papa Legba sing and “open the gates.” In his song, Papa Legba invites the listener to sit down to eat and make a deal. He warns listeners to “Beware the lady all dressed in brown.” Chantal tells Fabiola not to listen. When Papa Legba stops singing, Fabiola runs to the window and sees that the man is gone. She announces that the man is Papa Legba, and Chantal says that Matant Jo used to say the same thing—but he’s just a crazy old man. Fabiola stays up all night. She knows Papa Legba will help her free Manman.
Fabiola’s prayers take on new meaning now that she knows Papa Legba is just outside, working his magic to get Manman here. His presence makes Fabiola feel more secure, but Chantal encourages Fabiola to abandon this line of thinking. The fact that Matant Jo no longer believes in Bad Leg’s magic suggests that immigrating to the United States can make it difficult to hang onto one’s religious beliefs.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon