Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League By Dan-el Padilla Peralta

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: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League

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At 4, Dan-el Padilla Peralta moved with his family from the Dominican Republic so his pregnant mother could have better healthcare for the impending birth. After his father's return to his homeland, his mother and he found themselves living in difficult condition in subsidized housing, but Dan-el discovered his intellectual reach at an early age through a book on the shelf of a shelter's library. His curiosity could be sparked by even the most everyday experience (wondering why Brooklyn subway stations were named as they were, he thrilled at the discovery that they were named after Revolutionary generals). Such began a remarkable life of study. And he wasn't even 8 years old. This special boy caught the attention of Jeff Corwin, a volunteer teaching art at the shelter. Impressed by Dan-el’s interest in books and recognizing true academic curiosity, Jeff assisted in applying for scholarship admission to Collegiate School in Manhattan, his own alma mater.

This generous and important memoir lays out the family's difficulties due to the fact that without social security numbers or papeles (formal id's), they could not receive paychecks. Dan-el recognizes his luck in coming across the path of people willing to go the extra mile to help with his pursuits. His education, enviable by any yardstick, was hard won -- he earned the honors but doesn't make a huge issue out of it. He focusses instead on the roadblocks put up by the system. His whole story portrays someone of immense worth and contribution, and points out the value of privilege that should never be taken for granted by those lucky enough to have it.

I have enjoyed spending these past few days in Dan-el's company through his book. Highly recommended.
Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League “But I would rather run after the impossible than live as a string of labels: undocumented, hoodrat, Dominican, classicist. I am all of those things; no one or two of them define me.”

I was gifted this book through the Penguin First to Read program for an honest review.

This is not the typical book I choose to read, but I felt it was timely with all of the talk about immigration reform and now with the Donald denigrating immigrants to such a low level, I couldn’t resist reading this book.

Dan-el Padilla Peralta is a young man from the Dominican Republic who came to America fresh out of kindergarten and whose mother decided she wanted her boys to grow up and be educated in America. She made the choice to not return and so they lived as undocumented aliens except for Dan-el’s younger brother Yando who was born in America.

Dan-el was an exceptionally smart young man. He was able to get a full scholarship first to a Prep school called Collegiate, (JFK Jr. attended also) and then he went on to Princeton and Oxford and now Stanford. His story of a double life was heartrending at times and the stress he lived under and still was able to achieve everything he has is remarkable.

Dan-el Padilla Peralta tells his story honestly and it made me realize what a tragedy was averted because he was able to stay in this country to achieve so much. We truly need immigration reform and help these children of immigrants realize the American Dream that our grandparents were able to attain.

People who say Dan-el is an exception to the rule miss the issue in this book that everyone should have the chance to live in America and contribute. That is what makes our country so great. Let’s not lose that message that we have always stressed.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Emma Lazarus

Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League I originally learned about the author in an article about the current issues surrounding the classics field, and how he is a (or perhaps the) leading voice in deconstructing/reconstructing it. I am fascinated by that conversation, and so I wanted to know about the person leading it. There isn’t really anything about that in this book, but it was worth reading nonetheless. His story demonstrates both how distinctive and collective the triumphs and troubles are of those who are undocumented. He writes directly about his life, not sugarcoating or downplaying it. My only critique is that the dialogue felt a little stilted sometimes. Still, this story is worth being told, and the message is clear: immigrants are a critical component to the functioning and beauty of our society.

Also, this is bugging me, so I just want to add, for all the reviews who say that he was bragging about his accomplishments: why are you reading this book? He described his accomplishments with complexity, and honestly deserved to brag more than he did. Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League When I first discovered this book, I was so excited. I had finished reading Sonia Nazzario's Enrique's Journey, which explored the trials of an Enrique, an undocumented man. So when I discovered Undocumented, a firsthand account of Dan-el, I was so excited to delve even deeper into this important topic. However, a book that had so much potential, fell flat with lack of exploration into the political and social implications of being an undocumented person in the US. I have never been a huge fan of the memoir genre because the tone can be a bit self-serving and egocentric. Unfortunately, Undocumented was no different--the book started out quite strong, but as Dan-el never found his groove. In fact, his overuse of slang and lack of personal introspection caused his memoir to fall a bit flat. His writing style came off a bit immature for a many who is so intelligent. I am not sure if he chose to intermingle street slang with academic language to prove the point that his Dominican upbringing in East Harlem was just as much a part of him as his academic life at Princeton and Oxford, but whatever his intention, his memoir was a struggle to read in several portions. His intellect was not very apparent in his writing. Perhaps if he had incorporated statistics or facts beyond his own reality into the narrative, his story would have been a powerful platform to comment on the political decisions that caused such strife in his life. Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League The only time I’ve said “He just like me” about another man Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League

I received a copy of Undocumented from the publisher via the Goodreads First Reads program.

When I saw the listing for this book I knew immediately I had to read it. I'm first generation American with immigrant parents. My mother is from the Dominican Republic. Nothing about my upbringing paved the way for my academic career except for my own natural curiosity, love of learning and literature and drive. So I was really curious to read about Dan-el Padilla Peralta whose upbringing was a lot more complicated and difficult than my own. Reading about how Dan-el made it to the Ivy League with sheer determination and some luck was really inspiring. He encountered many problems related to his status as an illegal immigrant as well as his poor financial situation. However this never stopped him from his dream of doing well in school, studying the classics and making it all the way to Princeton and beyond.

There were many things I liked about this book. It's very timely considering the recent conversation about immigration and what immigrants contribute to American society and the economy. Dan-el is a fine example of how living in the US provides much more opportunities for academic success. I put Dan-el Padilla Peralta up there with Junot Diaz as examples of the intellectual potential of Dominicans. We are often relegated to being recognized solely for our baseball skills.

I would have given the book 5 stars except for a couple of things. I couldn't connect with the author. He was born with a talent for academics and he had a lot of help along the way from good friends and mentors. I didn't have any natural talent or help whatsoever. This is not the author's fault but just my personal reaction. This is not to say the author's journey was easy. He had to work very hard to get to where he was and his story is very admirable because of that.

The cover is a poor choice and the book is a first-person memoir yet they chose a third-person subtitle for the book. Penguin, the publisher, should know better! I also was really confused at who the intended audience was. The author uses relatively simple language as well as lots of Dominican and street slang throughout the text. After I finished the book I re-read the letter at the beginning of the book to see if I missed some insight into the purpose of the book but it read more like a summary of his story.

I did give the book four stars because it was a very enjoyable read, I loved rooting for the author as I learned more about his journey and I think the book is incredibly important and timely. People need to read about the immigrant experience and they need to see that there is potential beyond what people relegate to immigrants. This book would be great for book groups who want to sit down and talk about immigration in America.

I read a galley of the book so it is not the final edited text that will be published. I hope the publisher will encourage the author to re-write his letter to the reader that appears in the front of the book. And maybe they'll change the cover when they put the book in paperback! Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League For more, check out http://girlwithabookblog.wordpress.com!

Undocumented is a fantastic memoir that depicts one person’s journey as an undocumented person living in America. When Dan-El Padilla Peralta is a young child, he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his family. His family didn’t acquire US citizen documentation and soon their travel papers expired and he and his mother were eventually living in America illegally. Dan-El beautifully articulates the struggles that he encounters because he doesn’t have documentation – his mother isn’t able to legally work so they had to move into a shelter when Dan-El is young and move frequently until they are able to find a more stable home thanks to public housing; he isn’t able to “officially” work (on paper at least) when he is offered a mentorship job when he’s in high school; he has no idea how to apply to college and if he will even be allowed to attend; and more struggles that are too numerous to list (and would also spoil some of his life story if I included them here).

It is so, so important that stories like Padilla Peralta’s are captured and made available to the public. Moving to the US and overstaying your initial papers and eventually living in America illegally is more common than a lot of people think. You may even have someone in your life who is undocumented and you have no idea. With Padilla Peralta’s story of his life, he’s able to share his experience with those who may not be aware of the realities that face being undocumented in the US, and also provide comfort to others who have lived those experiences. I talked about this book with my friend who was undocumented for most of his youth and he said that it would have been incredibly reassuring to know a book like Undocumented existed because for a long time, he didn’t know anyone else outside of his family who was undocumented. He told me that if he had been able to read about someone who shared his experience in some way, he wouldn’t have felt so isolated about his status and his situation.

That said, Padilla Peralta is quick to remind readers that he doesn’t have the answers for someone in similar situations to him. He was able to acquire a lot of well-placed connections and a valuable support system based on his specific circumstances, which may not be widely available to everyone. His book isn’t about teaching others specifically how to navigate their own situation, but purely serves to detail his own life experiences.

After the acknowledgments section of the book, there is a glossary of Spanish terms used throughout the text. Since I had an e-galley of this book, I didn’t notice this until I had finished reading. There are hardly ever full sentences in Spanish within the book, and most of the Spanish terms are sprinkled into the text occasionally in a way that isn’t distracting if you don’t know Spanish. Thus, a glossary wasn’t necessary to me, but some could find it helpful.

The only thing I would have changed about the memoir is the epilogue – it felt awkward to read and seemed as if it was hastily strung together. It’s very vague about how many years had lapsed between the epilogue and the last chapter of the book and if there had been any development with one of the major plot lines of the book. I also wish there had been a greater call to action at the end of the book; Padilla Peralta speaks extensively about the DREAM Act and I felt like the epilogue could have included a request for readers to contact their local representatives about this bill or listed activism groups that they could either directly be involved with or contribute to if they desired. However, if you couldn’t tell from the rest of this glowing review, I definitely recommend reading this book. It’s well written and represents a perspective that I haven’t read before. If you’ve read books that cover similar territory, please recommend them to me!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin. Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League Really fascinating story. It reads a little too much like a love letter to Collegiate and Princeton though. Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League Padilla Peralta is an amazing success story. Brought to NYC on a tourist visa so his mother can get medical care, he, his mother, and infant brother born here, overstay their visa putting them immediately into undocumented status. His father choses not to stay in NY and returns to Santo Domingo. They quickly fall into poverty and eventually end up in a homeless shelter for a time. Dan-el, whose story this is, is a gifted boy who loves reading about ancient Rome and Greece. He wins scholarships to one private school and then another which is very elite. He goes on to an Ivy League college majoring in Classics.

I really enjoyed the Dominicanismos (phrases and words) in the book, most of which aren't translated. Dan-El never forgets he's Dominican, but above all he feels he's a New Yorker. His story provides insights into the many obstacles undocumented youth face. They can't legally work or even travel out of state without ID. They are not eligible for any federal aid including work study when they go to college. And there are very very few ways to regularize your status if you are out of status as Dan-El was.

Something to to keep in mind was Dan-El's parents were educated, middle class professionals. If they hadn't been, they wouldn't have gotten visas to the US. His mother pushed to get her sons excellent educations, and they excelled. His parents provided him with one step up that set him on his way.

The audiobook is effectively read by the author. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the situation of undocumented students. Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League He wasn't particularly eloquent. For a BA from the Ivy League I expected to be persuaded more. I was more pro-immigration reform prior to reading this.

I've become more ambivalent about the issue than I should be after reading a memoir of someone who went through it. His Dad went home. His Mom just decided to break the law.

I know he says that undocumented workers contribute to society. I believe it in most cases, but not their's. His mom took a spot. She lived off welfare. I hope that she switched to working for the Catholic Church eventually (and illegally). But that wait list that they complained about...those citizens that they bumped and would have benefited from the help...every complaint she had on behalf of her children disgusted me. That scholarship to a prestigious private school...that's a spot taken up that could have gone to the child of a poor mother and father who didn't break the law. That nearly full ride to Princeton, that could have gone to someone equally qualified.

It's hard to read with empathy. I would fully empathize with a refugee, or someone who was human trafficked here and abandoned. I would empathize with someone who was trying to get back to their country but was prevented through war, poverty, etc.

But someone who we were compassionate enough to let in to get necessary medical care then just essentially skipped the immigration line, and her amazingly talented children...it's hard to feel much empathy. It makes me worry that the 'fix' from less compassionate people would be to prevent visitors from coming here to receive quality medical care.

It's easy to pity the 8 yr old, but not the since grown adult who can't see that he has taken some of the best opportunities away from other equally qualified kids, and who doesn't seem to see how hard legal immigrants and native born people had to work.

I do feel somewhat guilty for this opinion, but I can't seem to shake it. I don't think the immigration movement should use him as a spokesperson, yet. As a taxpaying member of this society, I hold the right to change my opinion of disappointment to gratitude if he ever actually does anything that enriches our society. Then I'll probably take it back. But here's a kid who's living my dream. Perpetual school...people believing in him at just the right moments to motivate him to develop his skills.

As it stands this memoir is an example of how someone might jump the line, and a reader whose against immigration reform would propose tighter control of government funding.

Was it always intended that illegal citizens would be given welfare because their kids were born here? I wouldn't want them to starve. But she's the one that put them in the position to starve here and I'm disappointed in her for doing it.

Sorry reader. I'm not happy with the above sentiment, either. Undocumented: A Dominican Boys Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League