I wasn’t going to read this one second (though it was on the list). But then I cracked the cover and read the first chapter, and, just like that, I was hooked.
American Street begins with a loss. Fabiola Toussaint and her mother, Valerie, are moving to Detroit from Port-au-Prince. Fabiola is American born, and passes through immigration with no problem. But now she’s stuck on the wrong side of the glass: her mother has been detained. Reluctantly, she boards her connecting flight to Detroit, hoping against hope that her mother will follow along shortly.
I don’t think I’m spoiling much if I say that her mother does not. Instead, Fabiola (shortly Fabulous) joins her cousins Chantal, Princess (‘Pri’), and Primadonna (‘Donna’) and her aunt Jo in Detroit, where Fabiola must find a way to navigate this strange and dangerous territory while holding on to who she is and trying to find a way to bring her mother through the gateway and into America.
It’s a neat trick, establishing empathy with a character you’ve just met, and Zoboi does it flawlessly in those first pages and then never lets up. Fabiola must find her way through not only the culture shock of moving from Haiti to America, but also the discrepancies between the America she expected and the America she experiences, all while trying to build a sense of family with her cousins, who were only voices on the phone til she arrived, and restore the family she’s known her whole life by getting her mother through immigration. Add in the dangers of high school, the drug trade, and the particular precariousness of life in Detroit, fallen symbol of the 20th Century American Dream, it’s no wonder Fabulous feels lost. Luckily, she has her vodou practice, her cousins, and her memories to carry her through.
This is one of those books that just grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. At least it was for me. Tautly-plotted and written in prose that manages to be visceral, poetic, and windowpane-clear all at once, I chewed my way through most of this book in a single day. I can see why it won the National Book Award.
Immigrant stories are an American perennial, both because of the long and mostly positive history of our lifted lamp beside the golden door, and because we can see it most clear through fresh eyes, both in its ideal form (both foreign and domestic) and its actuality. Here that actuality takes many forms: the injustice of splitting Fabiola from her mother, the Faustian bargain she’s offered by a local police detective, and the fruits of that bargain, too, which I won’t spoil but will have you nodding and saying ‘yeah, that’s about right’ even as you wipe a tear from your eye and read on, hoping Zoboi will take it back. But of course she doesn’t, because even though Fabiola is eminently root-forable, this is America, and she and her family – and everyone near their home at the corner of American Street and Joy Road – are black.
That’s not to say this book is a bummer. Much of it is so ebullient and alive that the reader will forgive the inescapably complicated state of things by the end. It is, perhaps, as happy an ending as can be asked for, and one that satisfies even if you don’t get all you root for.
Either way, this is a fantastic book, and one I’d recommend both for its all-too-relevant subject matter and its stunning fulfillment of the promise it makes in those first few pages. Go ahead, pick it up. I’m willing to bet you won’t put it down.
You know, it occurs to me that in a meaningful sense we already know who the anonymous OpEd writer is.
It’s the entire Republican party.
I mean, it’s been pretty clear all along that what the OpEd writer described is what’s happening. Trump is an unhinged, uncurious madman with the impulse control of a hangry threenager and even less understanding of how the world works. He spends most of his time watching TV and tweeting while the staff does the whole running the government thing, which has devolved to playing day-care damage control and occasionally putting something from the wildly unpopular GOP wish list in front of the child-in-chief to sign.
I never thought I’d say this, but Donald Trump may not have been entirely wrong when he tweeted ‘TREASON?’ How else describe ignoring the President’s orders, or picking and choosing which ones to execute and which ones to blow smoke up his ass about?
That I’m glad they’re doing it is beside the point. I think it’s great they agree with my own assessment, which is that Donald J Trump is singularly unfit for the office he holds. But it’s the *not* invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment that’s the Constitutional crisis here. As so many others have said, if you know the guy in the Oval Office is unfit, the Constitution has remedies for that. Use them.
But that’s not the GOP’s way of doing things anymore. Between gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and the way they worked (and then changed) the rules of the Senate, the Republican party has made it crystal clear that they’re neither competing for office nor governing in good faith and in accordance with the principles of American democracy. They are, rather, wholly fixed on enacting an extremely unpopular policy agenda in service to their billionaire donors, and they’ll do it by hook or by crook.
Which brings us back to their Devil’s Bargain with Trump. Sure, he’s unfit. Sure, he’s as bad at the job as a person could be. Sure, he requires the same kind of management a toddler with an assault rifle requires. But they decided, same as the anonymous OpEd writer, that all that was a price worth paying so long as they got to ram through their anti-democratic, anti-American agenda. They got their giant tax cut for the 1%, they got to sell off public lands and roll back basic regulations that keep the air breathable and the water safe to drink, they’ve packed the judiciary with conservative ideologues and activist judges. Hell, they are, right now, ramming through a lifelong Republican political operative, who cut his teeth in the great Clinton Penis Hunt, then worked in W’s White House during the torture years (and oh, so much more), in a process so obviously rushed and rigged it would make Pinochet blush, onto a lifelong position on the Supreme Court, where he’ll help deliver the rest of their unpopular agenda (hello gun rights, goodbye abortion).
So yeah, color me unsurprised that they’re undermining their own President, whom none of them liked or wanted, but whom they hitched their stars to, nonetheless.
It might have been a specific person who wrote that OpEd. But the whole rotten party is implicated. And there’s nothing heroic about it.
I knew something was wrong the moment my mom walked into my room. It wasn’t just that she was crying, though she was. In a moment I was crying, too, because it was my mom waking me up to go to school that morning. Which was not her job. My dad was the one who woke me up for school in the morning. The moment I laid eyes on my mom I knew: my dad finally left her.
I was in fifth grade. Not quite ten years old. It was the early ’80s, and I was very shortly to have the disctinction of being the first kid I knew whose parents got a divorce.
It wasn’t a surprise. Like I said, I knew right away what had happened. And to be honest, I can’t — and could not at the time — remember a time when my parents weren’t fighting. I didn’t know what they were fighting about, didn’t really even want to. It was just a thing that happened, and when it did I would go to my room and play with my toys or read a book or I’d go outside and ride my bike around the neighborhood or go knock on a friend’s door or one of the thousand other things kids did back in the days when parents weren’t expected to schedule and supervise their childrens’ entire existence.
That morning was the last time I cried about it.
Because like I knew what had happened the night before, I knew what was expected of me. What was expected of any boy who wasn’t girly or gay or soft or weak. No one had to tell me that boys don’t cry.
So I didn’t. I tamped that shit down, put on my game face, and went on a field trip to Sea World with the rest of my class. As I recall, my dad was one of our chaperones. I didn’t ask him what happened. I mean, it wasn’t like it was a surprise. The real surprise was it hadn’t happened sooner.
I remember being very proud of myself for being so mature.
It wasn’t long after that I started acting out. Continue reading
[Serious trigger warning for survivors of sexual assault. You don’t need to read it. The important bits will be requoted in what follows.]
I didn’t want people to know. More than that, I didn’t want those things to have happened.
But they did happen. I did those things. And if it’s taken this long for me to human up and acknowledge them, well, that’s on me, too.
I could make excuses. I was young, dumb, and full of cum. I didn’t know any better. I came of age in the ’80s, when rape culture was just culture. Men were supposed to want sex, and anything shy of actual or threatened violence was on the table for getting it, be it deception, cajoling, or just getting her drunk enough to let you take her panties off and do what you wanted. I was a product of my environment.
Those excuses are bullshit. Basic human decency isn’t hard to grasp once you admit to yourself that other people are people.
[For the record, I still don’t want people to know, I still don’t want those things to have happened, those things did still happen, and I’m still sorry. Like then, I am still terrified of hitting ‘publish’ when I get to the end of this, because even though I don’t think of myself as a good person, I still prefer that other people do.]
Sadly, and sadly unsurprisingly, not all men took that watershed moment to reflect on rape culture and their place and participation in it, either personally or politically. Sadly, and sadly unsurprisingly, not all men are taking the opportunity now. But some are. Continue reading