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 stayed, 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.