American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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Bad Leg/Papa Legba Character Analysis

Bad Leg is a homeless man who sits on the corner of American Street and Joy Road. People call him Bad Leg because he has one leg that he cannot use; when he sits on his customary overturned bucket, it sticks out in front of him. He sings songs and recites rhymes, and nobody takes him seriously. This changes when Fabiola moves in with Matant Jo, as she believes that Bad Leg is actually Papa Legba, the lwa (Vodou spirit) of the crossroads. Papa Legba is the lwa responsible for opening gates and allowing people to make transitions, so Fabiola prays to him often—she believes that he’s the one who will let Fabiola’s mother, Manman, into the United States after ICE detains her. Papa Legba cryptic, and his advice is never straightforward. And because Bad Leg only ever speaks in rhymes that seem to barely make sense, Fabiola decides that Bad Leg is Papa Legba after asking what happened to his leg. Bad Leg explains that he visited his daddy on “the other side” and agreed to lend his daddy his leg—but when he got back home, he found his leg was useless. Fabiola becomes increasingly convinced of her assessment as Bad Leg begins to smoke a cigar, an item associated with Papa Legba, and as his rhymes seem more and more connected to everything going on in Fabiola’s life. Indeed, one afternoon Bad Leg/Papa Legba leads Fabiola through Detroit to a nightclub in search of Dray, appearing and disappearing again in various like a spirit might. Ultimately, Papa Legba saves Fabiola from Dray by shooting Dray in the head before Dray can shoot Fabiola. After this, he turns to smoke and disappears from the street corner. With this, Fabiola realizes that Papa Legba has indeed been watching over 8800 American Street since Phillip and his family moved in.

Bad Leg/Papa Legba Quotes in American Street

The American Street quotes below are all either spoken by Bad Leg/Papa Legba or refer to Bad Leg/Papa Legba. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Balzer + Bray edition of American Street published in 2017.
Chapter 8 Quotes

“Leg. Bad,” I say loud and clear, because I now see him for who he is—the old man at the crossroads with his hat and cane and riddles come to open doors for me. He is the lwa who guards the gates to everything good—to everything bad, too. “Bad. Leg. Legba. Papa Legba.”

Related Characters: Fabiola Toussaint (speaker), Bad Leg/Papa Legba
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“On American Street, I will live with my aunt Jo and my cousins, and go to school, and have a cute boyfriend, and keep my mouth shut because in Haiti I learned not to shake hands with the devil. But on Joy Road, I will tell the truth. The truth will lead to my happiness, and I will drive long and far without anything in my way, like the path to New Jersey, to my mother, to her freedom, to my joy. Which road should I take, Papa Legba?”

Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

Then I begin to see him for who he really is. Dray, with his sunglasses even as night spreads across the sky, and his gold cross gleaming, and his love/hate for my cousin, reminds me of the lwa Baron Samedi, guardian of the cemetery—keeper of death.

Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

“Matant Jo,” I say. “Bad Leg at the corner, he’s not just a crazy man. He is Papa Legba and he is opening doors and big, big gates. I will show you. I promise.”

She turns to me. “Child, this is Detroit. Ain’t no Papa Legba hanging out on corners. Only dealers and junkies. You don’t know shit. But don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.”

Related Characters: Fabiola Toussaint (speaker), Matant Jo François (speaker), Bad Leg/Papa Legba
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

This is a makeshift altar for Ezili with all the things she loves in the world. My whole body tingles when I realize what’s happening.

Again, Papa Legba has opened another door. How could I have missed this? Of course, I need Ezili’s help, too. And she’d been right under my nose, working through Donna with all her talk about hair, jewelry, clothes, and beauty.

Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:
The Story of 8800 American Street Quotes

So in 2000, Jean-Phillip François, the Haitian immigrant and the first occupant to actually land a job at a car factory—the Chrysler plant—paid the city three thousand dollars in cash for that little house on American Street.

And maybe because the little house had been revived with the sounds of babies and the scent of warm meals and love and hopes and dreams, Death woke from its long sleep to claim the life of Haitian immigrant and father of three Jean-Phillip François with a single bullet to the head outside the Chrysler plant.

Death parked itself on the corner of American and Joy, some days as still as stone, other days singing cautionary songs and delivering telltale riddles, waiting for the day when one girl would ask to open the gates to the other side.

Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire American Street LitChart as a printable PDF.
American Street PDF

Bad Leg/Papa Legba Character Timeline in American Street

The timeline below shows where the character Bad Leg/Papa Legba appears in American Street. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Chapter 4
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 7
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation 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... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
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,”... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...return, she can help Fabiola get Manman. At first, Fabiola smiles. Then, she remembers that Papa Legba can lead people through labyrinths before opening doors, so she asks what the detective wants.... (full context)
Chapter 11
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola stays up late, listening to Bad Leg sing and replaying the day’s events in her head. Finally, she gets up to pray... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Fabiola thinks that she has to choose a path. One street represents the future, and Papa Legba will help her choose. Fabiola says that on American Street, she’ll live with her family,... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...a doctor. Chantal sighs and tells Fabiola to get through school, to stop messing with Bad Leg , and to not ask about the dead white girl. (full context)
Chapter 12
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Fabiola is thankful for Imani; she believes Papa Legba has opened the door to friendship for her. Since Kasim has been asking Fabiola to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...car outside—Dray let Kasim borrow it. Fabiola doesn’t want to get in and looks for Bad Leg , but the old man is nowhere to be found. She calls to Donna and... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...Fabiola’s surprise, Kasim advises her to stay out of this matter. Meanwhile, Fabiola feels like Papa Legba is drawing her in as he works to get Manman to this side. Kasim kisses... (full context)
Chapter 15
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...here now. Back upstairs, Fabiola screams into Chantal’s pillows. She’s almost asleep when she hears Papa Legba singing outside. Fabiola rushes outside to listen. Papa Legba looks different than he usually does... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Fabiola asks Papa Legba for “the word,” and he sings a rhyme for her. On the last line, his... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
At the end of the street, Fabiola sees Papa Legba . When Fabiola crosses the street to join him, he’s gone. She walks down American... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...him. He hands the dogs to the fat man, and Fabiola knows that this is Papa Legba ’s doing. The club is dark. Fabiola awkwardly says that her mom is in a... (full context)
Chapter 16
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...Fabiola braids, she explains that Manman was a mambo of some regard and insists that Papa Legba is on the corner. She knows that Matant Jo used to believe that too. Matant... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
...just finally came to her senses and tells Fabiola to stop braiding. Fabiola insists that Bad Leg is Papa Legba, and he’s going to open doors. Matant Jo harshly replies that this... (full context)
Chapter 17
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...of the car. She knows that this is her chance to be a trickster, like Papa Legba , and put on a costume that will help her hand Dray over to Detective... (full context)
Chapter 20
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...Outside the house, Fabiola asks if they can do this again every day. She sees Papa Legba and thinks that he approves. (full context)
Chapter 21
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...later, Fabiola can’t sleep. She gets out of bed and goes down into the street. Bad Leg is nowhere to be found, so Fabiola turns in every direction to bow to every... (full context)
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...screaming. She ties her hair with Manman’s scarf, works on her altar, and prays to Papa Legba . (full context)
Chapter 23
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...remove this curse? In closing, Fabiola says that the lwas are all around, helping her. Papa Legba will soon allow Manman through the gate. (full context)
Chapter 24
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Donna isn’t home yet, so Fabiola dozes. She hears Bad Leg singing a song he first sang months ago, before Fabiola knew he was Papa Legba.... (full context)
Chapter 27
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...a bad dream. She whisper-yells to Chantal that they can’t go to the party—according to Papa Legba , something bad is going to happen. Chantal calls Donna’s cellphone, and the twins appear... (full context)
Chapter 29
Spirituality Theme Icon
Fabiola runs downstairs, throws on a coat, and races to the corner and Bad Leg . He’s all dressed up and wearing sunglasses, just like Dray. Fabiola asks if everything... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...Kasim will be the one selling—Fabiola’s stupidity will get Kasim arrested. Fabiola tries to remember Papa Legba ’s song, but it all sounds crazy to her now. This is how she felt... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
...cops or lawyers—it’s the code out here. Fabiola shrinks into her seat and wonders where Papa Legba is taking her. She remembers what Chantal said: Kasim will be the one to get... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...disbelievingly. Behind the detective, police officers are unraveling yellow ribbon that reads “CAUTION.” Fabiola remembers Papa Legba ’s warning to “Beware the lady all dressed in brown.” (full context)
Chapter 31
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...opens her eyes. She isn’t dead—Dray is. Fabiola is shaking. She turns around and sees Papa Legba standing in the doorway with his cane, which might actually be a gun. He sings... (full context)
Chapter 32
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...of an ICE agent. The agent is dropping all charges; Manman will go free. Meanwhile, Papa Legba doesn’t sit at the corner anymore, and Fabiola can’t remember his rhymes. (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Pri goes back inside the house, and Fabiola looks around. She catches sight of Bad Leg near the lamppost, but just then, Chantal calls for Fabiola. When Fabiola looks back toward... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
As Chantal turns onto Joy Road, Fabiola sees Papa Legba leaning on the lamppost. He tips his hat to her, and Fabiola mouths “thank you”... (full context)