Undocumented : A Dominican Boy's Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League
by Peralta, Dan-el Padilla

A Princeton University salutatorian describes his experiences as an undocumented immigrant youth in New York City, relating his efforts as a scholarship student in a private school that sharply contrasted with his street life in East Harlem. 30,000 first printing.

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, DAN-EL PADILLA PERALTA came to the United States with his family at the age of four. He received his BA summa cum laude from Princeton University, where he was chosen salutatorian of the class of 2006. He received his MPhil from the University of Oxford and his PhD in classics from Stanford University. He is currently a Mellon Research Fellow at Columbia University.

Seeking medical care for a complicated pregnancy, Peralta's mother and father brought him with them to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. Born in the U.S., his younger brother automatically had the documentation that Peralta and his mother lacked. When his father returned to the DR, Peralta and his mother struggled with poverty complicated by their status, finally settling in low-income housing in Harlem. A volunteer at the shelter library recognized Peralta's intelligence and helped him get a scholarship to Collegiate, the nation's oldest private school. Peralta spent his youth projecting two very different sides of himself, the tough exterior he showed to the neighborhood gang-bangers and the hunger for knowledge he displayed at school. Between a very protective mother and his own ambition, he succeeded despite the lack of documentation that limits his ability to work, to travel, and to get financial aid. At Princeton and at the top of his class, he revealed his undocumented status in a profile in the Wall Street Journal. Peralta offers an inspiring personal story of the hardships faced by undocumented families. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

This story of the personal struggle of an undocumented alien underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Being without papeles all his life growing up in New York City led Peralta to hide his impoverished Dominican roots—until Ivy League sponsors and even President Bill Clinton helped get him permission to travel abroad to Oxford and eventually change his immigrant status to allow him to attend graduate school at Stanford. For any other undocumented person, deportation loomed, while leaving the country meant being barred from re-entry, a fact the author is cognizant of as he embraces his great opportunity in America. Peralta's parents first brought him to America when he was 4, in 1989. Though they had solid office jobs in Santo Domingo, the parents sought better health care and schools but soon came up against the enormous cost of living in New York, where some of the family's aunts and uncles already lived. Peralta's father moved back, but his mother st ayed, fiercely keeping the family going even when they had to live in a homeless shelter for a year. Still, the author was an avid reader, and he excelled in the New York public schools, catching the attention of an art teacher who became the boy's "big brother" and helped navigate Peralta's admission to an elite Upper West Side private school, Collegiate, where he mixed with mostly rich white kids and never let on to his true undocumented status. At this point in the narrative, the author slips into a street slang that he assumed with irony—a way of "fronting" to show how tough he had to be straddling two different worlds. Yet it's jarring, as he keeps it up through the narrative of his college years at Princeton and beyond. The author eventually became a scholar of classics, and the "whispering ghost of race/survivor guilt" still haunts. Occasionally uneven, but an impassioned and honest memoir from an author determined to prove himself worthy. Copyright Kirkus 2015 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

“Dan-el, the police just searched our apartment for drugs!”

I took Mom’s call outside my school’s com­puter room, where I’d been proofreading the school newspaper.

“What? What happened? Why did they think we had drugs? Did they say?”

“Mi’jo, it’s going to be OK now. They made a big mistake. They had one cop who speaks a little Spanish explain to me what went wrong. They’d received a call from someone who told them dealers were storing drugs in an apartment in our building. The cops thought the informant said ‘Apartment 2B,’ so they came to our apartment—”

“So they were there when you got home from church?”

“They’d knocked down the door. They were searching every­thing. They searched my bedroom, the table where I have the candles for the santos, the living room, the kitchen, the bedrooms.”

“Do they still think we’re involved with drug dealers?”

“Ay, no, mi’jo. So they’re searching everywhere and I’m telling them over and over again that they’re wrong, that we’re a family of God and I’m just a single mother raising two children. I showed them all your books, I told them you go to a famous private school on full scholarship. But they wouldn’t believe anything I told them. They just kept asking where the drugs were. But finally, finally, thank you, Virgin Mary, one of the police officers took out his radio and spoke with the police officers standing outside our building. That’s when another cop came up to me and said they were extremely sorry. That it had all been a mistake, that they were supposed to be inves­tigating another apartment instead. And you should have seen them, Dan-el, how nice they were when they realized their mistake. They’re even going to pay to have our door fixed.”

“Those sinvergüenza cops!”

“Dan-el! They were doing their job, my son. It’s over now.”

“Did they ask about our immi­gration status?”

“Thank God no, my son. They didn’t ask me for papeles or anything like that.”

I let out a small sigh of relief. Mom continued:

“But I must have interrupted you, my son, you’re still at school working on the newspaper, right? Everything’s OK, I just wanted you to know what had happened. Get back to what you were doing and I’ll see you at home for dinner. Dios te bendiga.”

I returned to the computer room. One of my friends asked me if anything was wrong.

“Me?” I replied. “Nah, kid, I’m good.”

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