Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s new memoir does more than chronicle his contrasting lives in the two very different worlds he simultaneously occupied. Undocumented gives the Dominican-born, American-raised Peralta a voice and, perhaps, more importantly, it gives readers a figure they can understand and empathize with.
Peralta became a face in the immigration debate nine years ago when The Wall Street Journal published a long-form profile a month before he graduated from Princeton University. The article recounted Peralta’s arrival in the U.S. at the age of 4, his childhood in New York City homeless shelters and a love of learning that took him all the way from a public school in Chinatown to the Ivy League. When the article was published in 2006, Peralta was seeking a waiver of his status as an illegal immigrant so he could accept a two-year scholarship at Oxford and return safely to the U.S.
In the book, Peralta’s storytelling is often raw and emotional—“all the shit going down in my life, and now I had to deal with the trials and tribulations of the aggrieved younger brother”—while also being direct and powerful. “[E]very day,” he writes, “I feel grateful to this country for the education it has given and continues to give me and my brother.”
Peralta describes seemingly basic acts like opening a personal bank account or accepting financial aid that were made difficult by the lack of a social security number. Readers of Undocumented will find themselves growing increasingly frustrated with a system that nearly failed Peralta had it not been for the help of those who didn’t see an illegal immigrant, but rather a bright boy with a promising future.
Whatever your stance on immigration reform, you’re likely to be moved by Peralta’s plight as he recalls the tumultuous obstacles he and his family have faced.