Study Guide

The Orange Houses Foreignness and the "Other"

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Foreignness and the "Other"

The women tiptoed onto the deck as if they were treading landmined sands. For nine days they had been hiding in the backup engine room of this oil tanker fit for hauling two million barrels of light sweet crude and, this time around, thirty-four refugees. Each woman's passage cost twenty-five hundred dollars. (2.3) 

Our first description of Fatima and her fellow refugees makes them out to be timid women. Boy, is that not doing them justice. These women might be out of their comfort zones, but they are willful, smart, and hard-workers. Nothing like the way people <em>expect </em>Fatima to be. 

"Lovely headdress. What's that like, being Islamic?"

"I am not Muslim."

"You're not Christian."


"Then daggit, what are y'all?"

"I am human."

NaNa thought about that. "I guess that's all right. What's the scarf for?" (10.11-17) 

Fatima's response to NaNa's question shows her honesty and courtesy. She's clearly being asked what religion she is, but instead of going down that road, she simply says she's human. It's a good reminder since so many people in the book treat her like she's different, forgetting that when all is said and done, she's part of the same species. 

These Americans were wonderful people. She was hesitant at first to answer their questions, to accept Mik's invitation. But now she was glad she came. Back in the camps she told herself she would be fine on her own, but now she knew she had been lying to herself. She missed her sister. (10.13) 

This time, we hear from Fatima's perspective. Even though Americans seem to despise her and hunt her down, she loves them and their country. It shows us that prejudice doesn't work both ways—it's chosen. 

"Was a roomful of illegals on the third floor. Gate to the fire escape was rusted shut. Five Chinese living in a single room, you believe it? Hell we gonna do for takeout delivery now?" The old man spit. "Only good thing about it is we don't gotta deal with that stinking old German shepherd no more." (16.11) 

Describing Joe's death, the old man complains about the immigrants Joe offered a home to. Again, we see the reluctance of people to accept foreigners, even in times of tragedy. Joe helps the less fortunate out, yet he's ridiculed here because the ones he helped aren't from America. 

Y'all watch out for them tourists. They come over here acting all ignorant, trick you into showing 'em around, next thing you know they buying you dinner and drinks with drugs slipped in them, and you're back at their hotel, no idea how you got there or why half y'all's clothes are on the floor. (21.14) 

NaNa and Mik's mom's advice for the girls when they visit the Statue of Liberty is important to our understanding of the culture in NYC in the book: All around Mik and Fatima, people don't trust outsiders. 

A pack of girls shoved Fatima before they ran off. Their screams blew out Mik's hearing aids. They said something about horror, or terror. "Did they just call you a—"


"Yo!" Mik said. "Come back here and say that."

"Do not bait them," Fatima said.

"Folks are ignorant. You gotta lose the scarf." (22.6-10)

When Fatima is labeled a terrorist just for walking down the street, Mik is outraged, but sadly, Fatima is used to it by now. Their reactions show us how hurtful and inaccurate the accusation is, while highlighting the fact that this is typical for Fatima to endure. 

They crossed the strip to read a poster taped to the whitewashed glass of a vacant storefront: DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU COULD MAKE 5 -10K/ MONTH WORKING AS AN INFORMATION SPECIALIST FOR THE U.S. DEPT OF IMMIGRATION? (26.18) 

Immigration posters line the streets, reminding everyone that they can make money turning in illegal immigrants. At first, Mik isn't bothered with immigration issues, but pretty soon she gets offended by these new laws. 

Closed captions flashed over the TV screen as a senator said: WE OVERRODE THE FIRST VETO, AND WE'LL OVERRIDE THIS ONE TOO. THE PASSAGE OF THE BILL WILL BE A VICTORY FOR THE AMERICAN WORKER, NOT TO MENTION OUR NATIONAL SECURITY. The news anchor said the new law would force local cops to report illegals to Immigration. (30.5) 

This law is a big part of how Fatima is deported, and it's also significant in showing us how everyone treats illegal immigrants as well. We can see that people are pushing to separate immigrants from Americans with laws and tip lines. 

Their hatred stunned him. He knew these men, their brothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, helloed them daily in these streets surrounding the hospital. They were his neighbors, his friends. Why now did they kick him? He called out to them by name, and they struck him harder. He staggered to bent knees. "Let her go," he said. "Do what you got to do with me, but let her go." (38.19) 

As soon as Jimmi is a kidnapper in the town's eyes, they are out to get him. It doesn't matter that he was actually helping Mik—his horrific experience shows just how far the townspeople will go when it comes to keeping people they perceive as outsiders, well, out. 

I'm like, she's tall, pretty, scar over here, beautiful accent. I'm telling him about you too, so he can look for y'all, but all the old man wants to know is about Fatima's accent, what country. The painkillers, man, messing me up— I tell him where she's from. His eyes bug. Is she legal, he ask me. (41.10) 

Jimmi recounts how he accidentally ratted Fatima out. He feels badly about it, but his tale notes how easy it is for illegal immigrants to be deported. Why? People are hunting them down, as though they are animals needing to be captured. 

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