An undocumented immigrant’s journey from a New York City homeless shelter to the top of his Princeton class
Dan-el Padilla Peralta has lived the American dream. As a boy, he came here legally with his family. Together they left Santo Domingo behind, but life in New York City was harder than they imagined. Their visas lapsed, and Dan-el’s father returned home. But Dan-el’s courageous mother was determined to make a better life for her bright sons.
Without papers, she faced tremendous obstacles. While Dan-el was only in grade school, the family joined the ranks of the city’s homeless. Dan-el, his mother, and brother lived in a downtown shelter where Dan-el’s only refuge was the meager library. There he met Jeff, a young volunteer from a wealthy family. Jeff was immediately struck by Dan-el’s passion for books and learning. With Jeff’s help, Dan-el was accepted on scholarship to Collegiate, the oldest private school in the country.
There, Dan-el thrived. Throughout his youth, Dan-el navigated these two worlds: the rough streets of East Harlem, where he lived with his brother and his mother and tried to make friends, and the ultra-elite halls of a Manhattan private school, where he could immerse himself in a world of books and where he soon rose to the top of his class.
From Collegiate, Dan-el went to Princeton, where he thrived, and where he made the momentous decision to come out as an undocumented student in a Wall Street Journal profile a few months before he gave the salutatorian’s traditional address in Latin at his commencement.
Undocumented is a classic story of the triumph of the human spirit. It also is the perfect cri de coeur for the debate on comprehensive immigration reform.
Praise for Undocumented
“Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s story is as compulsively readable as a novel, an all-American tall tale that just happens to be true. From homeless shelter to Princeton, Oxford, and Stanford, through the grace not only of his own hard work but his mother’s discipline and care, he documents the America we should still aspire to be.” —Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of the New America Foundation
In this dogged journey of a Dominican boy "without papers," Peralta, currently a Mellon research fellow at Columbia University, describes his valiant battle against the obstacles of poverty, prejudice, and government red tape. Peralta, a native of Santo Domingo, came to America at age four with his undocumented parents, but financial demands forced his father to return home, leaving Peralta and his mother to fend for themselves. He writes candidly about hard times including a period spent in a dangerous homeless shelter, breaking through the harsh immigrant clich s to a pure humanistic level that any reader can embrace. Peralta found time to study despite the lack of financial stability; in time, he attended an elite Manhattan private school, then earned a degree from Princeton University. Understanding the "contradictions of his life," he describes himself: "illegal alien, hoodrat, Dominican, classicist," but states no one label could accurately fit him. Part memoir, part confessional, and part coming-of-age tale, Peralta's story holds several truths on the road through loss, sacrifice, and achievement to gaining his slice of the American dream.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I believe that it should be required reading for high school students! Imagine the level of understanding and conversations that it might inspire! My heart goes out to every person who is living here and pursuing their dreams in spite of not having “papales”Imagine if our ancestors had to face the immigration nightmares that so many face in these times! Many of us wouldn’t be here! I have been so moved by his story that I am going to write to my elected officials and encourage everyone I know that immigration reform must take place and soon! I pray that the new administration coming into office will address the issue very soon! Thank you Dan-el Padilla Peralto for sharing your story with all of us!