The hardships of living in New York City as an undocumented immigrant did not prevent Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an assistant professor of classics at Princeton University, from pursuing his dreams for a successful academic career. On Monday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m., Peralta will speak at Kenyon about his experiences in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater.
Peralta’s lecture shares a title with his 2015 memoir: “Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League.” In the book, Peralta recounts how his family arrived in the U.S. legally from Santo Domingo when he was 4 years old. When the family’s six-month temporary visa expired, Peralta’s father returned to the Dominican Republic and his mother stayed in New York with him and his brother. While living in a homeless shelter with his family, the young Peralta attracted attention for his love of learning, and with the help of a volunteer at the shelter, he embarked on a path to an elite private high school and higher education at Princeton, Oxford University and Stanford University.
“His story embodies the hardships and the virtues of the undocumented. The book offers a nuanced alternative to the oversimplified narrative of the ‘illegal’ that pervades public discourse today. In a moment when such discourse often serves as little more than political sloganeering, ‘Undocumented’ opens new spaces for authentic and productive dialogue,” said Professor of Spanish Clara Román-Odio, who is reading Peralta’s memoir with her “Contemporary Latino/a Literature and Film” class. “My hope is that students take advantage of this space and leave with an enhanced capacity to make more complex contributions to the debate surrounding the immigrant.”
Peralta’s memoir also is being read by members of “Overcoming Racism,” a Mount Vernon-based interfaith group that facilitates discussions about race.
In addition to his evening address, Peralta will give a talk titled “Classics as a Form of Racial Knowing” on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 11:10 a.m. in room 120 of Ascension Hall. During this lecture, he will discuss the relationship between the production of knowledge in disciplines such as classics and how people perceive concepts like racial injustice.
“I hope students attending these events get to see what the possibilities are for someone from a very disadvantaged background who really goes very far in his field,” Adam Serfass, professor of classics and chair of the department, said.
“I’m most looking forward to learning from members of Kenyon’s community. The classics department has an active and ongoing commitment to public-facing humanities work that I very much admire,” Peralta said. “I hope to meet as many members of the Kenyon community as possible during my two days on campus.”
Peralta holds affiliations with Princeton’s Program in Latino Studies and its University Center for Human Values. In addition to his scholarship on Roman cultural and religious history, he is known for his publications and advocacy on the subjects of immigration and race. His writing on immigration issues has appeared in a variety of media outlets, including the New York Times and the Guardian.
Both events are sponsored by Faculty Lectureships, the Latino/a Studies Program and the Robert O. Fink Memorial Lecture Fund of the Department of Classics.
—Betül Aydin ’21