American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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Matant Jo François Character Analysis

Matant Jo is Fabiola’s aunt; Manman’s sister; and Chantal, Pri, and Donna’s mother. She’s a few years older than Manman (Fabiola’s mother). Matant Jo’s story is tragic: she and Manman escaped Haiti as teens after the fall of Haiti’s dictator. Somewhere along the line, Matant Jo returned to Haiti and met Phillip, the love of her life. After Chantal was born, Phillip moved to Detroit to work in car factories, and Pri and Donna were born once Matant Jo and Chantal joined Phillip in Detroit. But disaster struck soon after: Phillip was murdered, leaving Matant Jo to care for three young children on her own. This made Matant Jo feel hopeless and caused her to lose faith in the American Dream—and the stress eventually caused her health to decline. Not long before the novel begins, Matant Jo had a stroke that left the left side of her body mostly paralyzed, an event that she sees as a manifestation of her hopelessness and depression. When Fabiola meets Matant Jo, she finds her frustrating: Matant Jo is unwilling to try to get Manman out of the detention facility where she’s being detained, and she continuously tells Fabiola that Vodou is nonsense. In Detroit, she insists, there’s no room for spirituality—instead, hopelessness and desperation rule everything. Matant Jo spends her days in her dark bedroom, sleeping and taking pills. Much later, Chantal gives Fabiola more context for Matant Jo’s hopelessness and health issues: following Phillip’s death in Uncle Q’s service, Matant Jo took the money that Uncle Q gave her as a payout and became a loan shark. It was all she could do to support her children—and it afforded her enough money to send her own kids to Catholic school and support Fabiola and Manman in Haiti. After Dray is murdered in her house, Matant Jo decides that it’s time to leave the house and seek a better life elsewhere.

Matant Jo François Quotes in American Street

The American Street quotes below are all either spoken by Matant Jo François or refer to Matant Jo François. 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 1 Quotes

And then tomorrow, she will come to this side of the glass, where this good work that will make her hold her head up with dignity, where she will be proud to send me to school for free, and where we will build a good, brand-new life. Une belle vie, as she always promises, hoping that here she would be free to take her sister’s hand and touch the moon.

Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

The living room of this house, my new home, is a sea of beige leather. The furniture crowds the small space as if every inch of it is meant for sitting. I’ve seen bigger salons in the mansions atop the hills of Petionville, even fancier furniture and wider flat-screen TVs. But none of that belonged to me and my mother; none of the owners were family. Here, I can sit on the leather couches for as long as I want and watch all the movies in the world as if I’m in the cinema.

Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Princess’s Story Quotes

Ma named us Primadonna and Princess ‘cause she thought being born in America to a father with a good-paying job at a car factory and a house and a bright future meant that we would be royalty. But when our father got killed, that’s when shit fell apart.

Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Matant Jo’s Story Quotes

This is your home now, Fabiola. This is Phillip’s house—the house he bought with the last bit of money he had from Haiti. He had dreams, you know. That’s why when he saw this house for sale, on the corner of American Street and Joy Road, he insisted on buying it with the cash from his ransacked and burned-to-the-ground car dealership in Port-au-Prince. He thought he was buying American Joy.

Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

She stares at the magic things for a while without touching them before she asks, “Does it work?”

“Well,” I say. “Has anyone ever tried to kill you?” I have to speak loudly over the music.

Pri turns around and closes the bedroom door, muting the music a bit.

“Kill me? Ain’t nobody rolling up in this house to kill anyone.”

“I know. We made it so. Me and my mother. Every day we asked the lwas to protect our family in Detroit and their house,” I say, adjusting my bra.

Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
Chantal’s Story Quotes

Creole and Haiti stick to my insides like glue—it’s like my bones and muscles. But America is my skin, my eyes, and my breath. According to my papers, I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m not a citizen. I’m a “resident alien.” The borders don’t care if we’re all human and my heart pumps blood the same as everyone else’s.

Related Characters: Chantal François (speaker), Fabiola Toussaint, Matant Jo François
Page Number: 116-17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

“You did well in Haiti with my money. You think I was going to let my sister rot in the countryside with a new baby in her hands?”

“We prayed for you. When I was a young girl and I couldn’t even understand anything, I knew that it was my job to pray for my aunt and cousins because it was the only reason my papers said that I am American. We were grateful for that, not just for the money.”

Related Characters: Matant Jo François (speaker), Fabiola Toussaint (speaker), Manman/Valerie Toussaint
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

“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 21 Quotes

“Catholic school for all three of us out here was just pennies. But your ass over there in Haiti cost her like twenty Gs every year. Your school, money for your mom, your clothes. Hell, all this time, Ma thought y’all were building a mansion near the beach and she swore she’d go back down there to retire.

“But she’s getting sick. We don’t want her to do this loan-sharking shit anymore. Money was running out. We still gotta live, Fab. We still gotta breathe. Money’s just room to breathe, that’s all.”

Page Number: 212
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:
Chapter 24 Quotes

How is this the good life, when even the air in this place threatens to wrap its fingers around my throat? In Haiti, with all its problems, there was always a friend or a neighbor to share in the misery. And then, after our troubles were tallied up like those points at the basketball game, we would celebrate being alive.

But here, there isn’t even a slice of happiness big enough to fill up all these empty houses, and broken buildings, and wide roads that lead to nowhere and everywhere.

Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

We are all in white. Even Pri has shed her dark clothes and now wears a white turtleneck and pants. I had wrapped my cousins and aunt in white sheets after making a healing bath of herbs and Florida water for each one, and let them curl into themselves and cry and cry. This is what Manman had done for our neighbors who survived the big earthquake. The bath is like a baptism, and if black is the color of mourning, then white is the color of rebirth and new beginnings.

Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire American Street LitChart as a printable PDF.
American Street PDF

Matant Jo François Character Timeline in American Street

The timeline below shows where the character Matant Jo François appears in American Street. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...the terminal without Manman. She wants to say that Manman hasn’t seen her older sister, Matant Marjorie , since they were teenagers. The woman, however, steps toward Fabiola and says that she’ll... (full context)
Chapter 2
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...when Manman left her in the market. Manman always came back. Chantal says that Matant Jo is going to handle things, and she wraps a scarf around Fabiola’s shoulders. Fabiola suddenly... (full context)
Chapter 3
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...face inside looks like Manman’s, but rounder—and this face doesn’t smile. Instead, half of Matant Jo’s face is frozen as a result of her stroke. Manman was supposed to be here... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Fabiola assures her aunt that she did, but then she uses another Creole word. Matant Jo shouts at Fabiola to use English. Pri argues that Matant Jo shouldn’t be so hard... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Matant Jo leads Fabiola into the kitchen while Pri, Donna, and Chantal turn on the TV in... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...for them to stop talking about poop. The sisters yell at each other until Matant Jo shouts for them to stop. With a smile, Chantal leads Fabiola to her bedroom, which... (full context)
Chapter 4
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Princess’s Story
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Princess says that Matant Jo gave her and Primadonna their names because she figured that being Americans with a house... (full context)
Chapter 5
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience 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... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Matant Jo’s Story
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
Matant Jo tells Fabiola that this is her home now. Phillip bought this house with the last... (full context)
Chapter 6
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Matant Jo keeps cash in her Bible. She gives Fabiola $400 for her “expenses.” This is the... (full context)
Chapter 7
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Chapter 8
Spirituality Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...asks if Fabiola is Donna’s cousin. She says that she knows Pri, Chantal, and Matant Jo, and that she knows Phillip was killed. Fabiola decides to trust the woman, since she... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...way and apologizes, explaining that not everyone can be a “baller” like Dray and Matant Jo. He calls Fabiola Fabulous and then calls Pri on his cell phone. He hands the... (full context)
Chapter 11
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...home behind. Chantal admits that sometimes, she wonders what life would’ve been like if Matant Jo had stayed in Haiti. Maybe, she and Fabiola would’ve grown up like sisters and shopped... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...didn’t do much in the city. She had to fight often, since people knew Matant Jo was sending money. Manman decided to leave because she was tired of fighting, and because... (full context)
Chantal’s Story
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...when she was nine, she had to translate newspaper articles about Phillip’s murder for Matant Jo. Later, when detectives came to the house, Chantal had to translate their words into Creole... (full context)
Chapter 13
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...away from Dray as he reaches for her lap. She only notices they’re at Matant Jo’s house when she hears her cousins shouting for a “bitch” to get out of the... (full context)
Primadonna’s Story
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...has ever had sex with. Donna remembers how, when she was 10, some of Matant Jo’s male friends told Donna she’d be promiscuous because she looked sexy. Other men would tell... (full context)
Chapter 15
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
...school. Once her cousins leave, Fabiola makes herself tea and wonders what Manman and Matant Jo would be doing if Manman were here now. Back upstairs, Fabiola screams into Chantal’s pillows.... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...party here when Manman is released. Dray laughs and says that Uncle Q threw Matant Jo a birthday party here once. Then, he tells Fabiola that if she and Kasim are... (full context)
Chapter 16
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...but all Manman wants to talk about is Fabiola’s studies. She also asks if Matant Jo is sending money and a lawyer. Fabiola explains that Matant Jo isn’t helping; Fabiola is... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
That afternoon, Fabiola knocks on Matant Jo’s door and lets herself in. Matant Jo throws a slipper at Fabiola and then yells... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Fabiola asks Matant Jo what hurts, and Matant Jo says that everything hurts and asks if Manman was also... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Matant Jo gets up and begins to change in front of Fabiola. Fabiola studies her aunt’s body:... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fabiola and Matant Jo begin to argue: Fabiola insists that she’s been praying for Matant Jo for years to... (full context)
Marjorie and Valerie’s Story
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Matant Jo says that when she was 15 and Manman was 13, their world opened up when... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Jo and Valerie joined crowds waiting for boats to Miami and squeezed into a fishing boat... (full context)
Chapter 18
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...Unique drops Fabiola and Donna off at the house, Donna shouts that she won. Matant Jo is with her male friends again and is unimpressed, but Chantal and Pri are shocked.... (full context)
Chapter 19
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...shouting for Donna—earlier, Donna cursed him out for cheating and getting caught by police. Matant Jo tries to make Dray leave, but he refuses. Matant Jo and Pri threaten Dray, but... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Under the door, Fabiola sees Pri’s socks and Matant Jo’s slippers converge around Donna to protect her, and Matant Jo shouts for Dray to get... (full context)
Chapter 21
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...bring back Manman. She feels ready to fall over as Uncle Q insinuates that Matant Jo didn’t teach her daughters to count money. He insists that he needs the money by... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...calmly asks her cousins if they killed the girl on the news, and if Matant Jo has been sending drug money to Haiti. Chantal leads Fabiola to the bedroom and says... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...cash. That’s why he died. Uncle Q had to pay up, so he gave Matant Jo $30,000 to help raise the kids. Matant Jo started giving the money away, but Uncle... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Chantal says that now, Matant Jo is sick, and they don’t want her to shark anymore—but they have to make money... (full context)
Chapter 22
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
One morning, Fabiola gets ready to join her cousins for chicken and waffles. Matant Jo comes out of her room and asks to join. In the packed car, Fabiola feels... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Matant Jo pays in cash and tries to give Fabiola the change. Fabiola refuses it, which offends... (full context)
Chapter 23
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...wish them a happy Thanksgiving—but back then, she didn’t know what the holiday was. Matant Jo has been busy planning the meal with Fabiola; Chantal, Pri, and Donna make requests but... (full context)
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Finally, everyone stands around the table, holding hands. Both Pri and Matant Jo thank God for Fabiola’s presence, and Fabiola sobs. She cries in part because she knows... (full context)
Chapter 24
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...Ezili-Danto—but Fabiola will fight this battle for Donna. Fabiola knows that her cousins and Matant Jo are hurting. She can’t understand how this place is supposed to be so good when... (full context)
Chapter 26
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...anything that Pri and Donna say, but she does hear Ms. Stanley say that Matant Jo will have to come in next week when Fabiola’s suspension is over. Fabiola has never... (full context)
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...as “Ugly Bitch and Uglier Bitch.” When the cousins stop laughing, Chantal says that Matant Jo might make Fabiola do some chores. Chantal also says that she’ll talk to Ms. Stanley... (full context)
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...bump, and tells her to be quiet and listen. The cousins decide to steal Matant Jo’s pills and sell them, just to show Uncle Q they’re trying—but Chantal mentions that that... (full context)
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
When Matant Jo hears about the fight, she only asks if Fabiola won against the other girls. The... (full context)
Chapter 30
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...what happened, and they need a plan. The cousins agree that they can’t call Matant Jo, since Uncle Q is probably keeping her away from the house. (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...when he kills her. Fabiola isn’t afraid of death, since Death owns half of Matant Jo and will soon own her too. Fabiola tells Dray to kill her and squeezes her... (full context)
Chapter 32
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Spirituality Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...to get rid of the stench of death. When she couldn’t scrub it out, Matant Jo decided it was time to leave the house for good. Now, everyone wears white. Fabiola... (full context)
Spirituality Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
...Chantal calls for Fabiola. When Fabiola looks back toward Bad Leg, he’s gone. Inside, Matant Jo wails. She breaks down and sobs on Pri’s shoulder as Chantal and Donna join her.... (full context)