Study Guide

Fatima Espérer in The Orange Houses

By Paul Griffin

Fatima Espérer

Sixteen-year-old Fatima is an African refugee with a dream. She's seen her mom sacrifice her life for Fatima and her sister, watched bombs blow up buildings and kids, plus she's scrimped and saved every dollar so she can come to America. In short, she's a girl on a mission when we first meet her.

Hope Springs Eternal

It's clear that Fatima has hope to spare. In fact, even her name is about her strongest feature: "Her mother had given the young woman her first name, but for her new life Fatima chose the last, a French word meaning to hope" (2.5). Right away, we're told that Fatima is hopeful, against all odds.

She sees her new life in America as a wonderful opportunity, even though she lives in a small, dark room and sells newspapers under the table. And here's the thing: She never complains. When the landlady apologizes for the tiny room, or Mik mocks eating apples, Fatima just sticks to her positive outlook. She loves America. What's there to complain about? Through her constant glass-half-full outlook, we get that she's been through tough times back at home and is grateful for easier days.

They Shoot Foreigners, Don't They?

That doesn't mean that Fatima doesn't have problems, though. Because boy does she. America isn't all it's cracked up to be in the tourist brochures. Sure, there's opportunity and happiness for Fatima in some parts, but most of the time, she's ridiculed for wearing a scarf, or labeled a terrorist. When this happens, she instructs Mik, "Do not bait them" (22.6), and brushes it off. Mik is outraged, but sadly, Fatima is used to it by now. Mik might be appalled, but Fatima is used to such treatment.

NaNa and Mik's mom are worried about what people might say when the girls go to the Statue of Liberty by themselves—NaNa tells them, "Just look mean. Yes, like that. My girls are fierce" (21.16). It isn't just a look with Fatima, though. She is one tough cookie, and she doesn't rattle easily, even when people are trying to shake her. Remember: She got herself to America.

Lady Liberty

Sadly, the girls never make it to the Statue of Liberty. It's a bummer, but it some ways it leads them to paint the mural. We hear throughout the book how important the tourist trap is to Fatima (head on over to "Themes" to learn more this), and even when the girls are chit-chatting, the statue comes up:

"You, my sister, and I are in Liberty's torch." She opened her eyes. "Look at these stars. I cannot believe that I am here, that you are here. This is all we need." (13.37)

Indeed, the girls take a cue from one another and create their own liberty, holding space and love for each other in their friendship. The mural they paint is super special to both of them, not only because it is of Lady Liberty, but also because it shows everyone how close they've become. They may come from different backgrounds and countries, but their bond is as true as they come—as Jimmi mentions, it will last forever.

It's too bad Fatima's time in America doesn't last, though. Everyone is depressed when Fatima is deported, and even more so since she's targeted by police after saving Jimmi's life. It seems unfair. Her strength and courage doesn't take a hit, though, and even in the detention center, Fatima is her positive, brave self, ready to take the next adventure of her life. Hopefully, it's one that includes liberty. 

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