Undocumented: A Dominican Boy's Odyssey From A Homeless Shelter To The Ivy League

Paperback | June 7, 2016

byDan-el Padilla Peralta

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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 arrived in the United States legally with his family. Together they had traveled from Santo Domingo to seek medical care for his mother. Soon the family’s visas lapsed, and Dan-el’s father eventually returned home. But Dan-el’s courageous mother decided to stay and make a better life for her bright sons in New York City.
 
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. At another shelter 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 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 immersed himself in a world of books and rose to the top of his class.
 
From Collegiate, Dan-el went on to Princeton, 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 essential reading for the debate on immigration, but it is also an unforgettable tale of a passionate young scholar coming of age in two very different worlds.
 
Praise for Undocumented:
Undocumented is an impassioned counterargument to those who feel, as did some of Peralta’s more xenophobic classmates, that ‘illegals’ are good-for-nothings who take jobs from Americans and deserve to be kicked out of the country. No one who reads this story of a brilliant young man and his proud mother will automatically equate undocumented immigrant with idle parasite. That stereotype is something else we shouldn’t take for granted.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“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

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From the Publisher

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 arrived in the United States legally with his family. Together they had traveled from Santo Domingo to seek medical care for his mother. Soon the family’s visas ...

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 Un...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8.4 × 5.5 × 0.7 inPublished:June 7, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143109332

ISBN - 13:9780143109334

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Read from the Book

“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.”

Bookclub Guide

US1. What were your views on immigration, and specifically undocumented immigrants, before you read this book? Did your opinion change in any way?2. While both Dan-el and Yando eventually experience great academic and personal success, their childhoods were marked by extreme poverty, and the legal risk Mrs. Peralta put herself and her children in was enormous. Had you been in her situation, would you have stayed in America or returned to the Dominican Republic?3. Did you or a member of your family immigrate to the United States.? If so, what was that experience like, and how does it compare with that of Dan-el’s family?4. Although he describes himself now as an agnostic, religion was a formative influence in Dan-el’s life. What kind of support did the church community offer him that he could not find elsewhere?5. When speaking from the perspective of his younger self, Padilla Peralta at times uses slang, Spanish, and profanity; later in the book, he includes Latin quotations. What effect do these shifts in voice have on the reader?6. While reading Breimer’s reference letter for his Princeton application, Padilla Peralta says he tries to ignore the “whispering ghost of race/survivor guilt” (p. 174). What does he mean?7. Padilla Peralta notes that the media coverage after the Wall Street Journal article was published often painted him as a “Ragged Dick for the twenty-first century” (p. 244). How does Padilla Peralta’s life compare to the famous Horatio Alger novel? Does he agree with this assessment?8. While Dan-el’s many teachers were hugely influential in his life, he also had a number of nonacademic mentors and family friends who played a part in his success. Who were these individuals and what did they contribute?9. Did you have a teacher, mentor, or religious figure in your childhood who altered the course of your life? Share your experience.10. Padilla Peralta says that he has “no intention of ever being only a Dominican, or a minority, or an undocumented immigrant, or a Spanish Harlem resident; or a Collegiate man, a Princeton man, an Oxford man” (294–295); he is a combination of all those identities. How many different identities do you have? How do they relate to each other?

Editorial Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Undocumented is an impassioned counterargument to those who feel, as did some of Peralta’s more xenophobic classmates that “illegals” are good-for-nothings who take jobs from Americans and deserve to be kicked out of the country. No one who reads this story of a brilliant young man and his proud mother will automatically equate undocumented immigrant with idle parasite. That stereotype is something else we shouldn’t take for granted.”  New York Daily News:  “Undocumented is not meant to be a ‘whole hood-boy-in richy-rich-school saga.’ Peralta is merely determined to put another face to the undocumented millions, that of the son of an illegal who reached the highest pinnacle of privileged education.”Publishers Weekly: “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.”Kirkus Reviews: “An impassioned and honest memoir… Underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform.” Library Journal:  “Peralta’s simple and unadorned yet fast-moving narrative provides an insightful read for anyone passionate about immigration reform.” Booklist:  “Peralta offers an inspiring personal story of the hardships faced by undocumented families.”Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of the New America Foundation:  “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.”Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies and A Wedding in Haiti: “Dan-el Padilla Peralta's Undocumented should be required reading for every congressman addressing legislation on immigration and for anyone who believes the American dream should not be a nightmare for those who are now faceless, homeless, and helpless in our midst.  It should be required reading in our schools, not just to educate the new leaders of America on these issues, but to inspire them to tell lively stories that captivate the imagination, inform the mind, and move the heart to act." From the Hardcover edition.