Undocumented Characters

The main characters in Undocumented are Dan-el Padilla Peralta, Maria Elena Peralta, Yando Padilla Peralta, "Dad," and Carlos.

  • Dan-el Padilla Peralta is the author of the memoir. A gifted student, Dan-el navigates through poverty and lack of documentation to become an acclaimed classical scholar.
  • Maria Elena Peralta is Dan-el's intelligent, resourceful, and prideful mother, who fights for the well-being of her sons.
  • Yando Padilla Peralta is Dan-el's younger brother, whose documented status is a source of tension between him and Dan-el.
  • "Dad" is Dan-el's father, who remains unnamed. He returns to the Dominican Republic shortly after the family's arrival.
  • Carlos is Maria's boyfriend and later husband. He is tough and reliable.


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Last Updated on January 8, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1231

Dan-el Padilla Peralta

The author and narrator of Undocumented, Padilla is a scholar of Greek and Latin classic texts and a Dominican immigrant. A New Yorker since he was four, Padilla may hold a PhD from Stanford, but he does not have citizenship. Undocumented is his account of living...

(The entire section contains 1231 words.)

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Dan-el Padilla Peralta

The author and narrator of Undocumented, Padilla is a scholar of Greek and Latin classic texts and a Dominican immigrant. A New Yorker since he was four, Padilla may hold a PhD from Stanford, but he does not have citizenship. Undocumented is his account of living with these contradictions. As Padilla chronicles his experiences growing up in an impoverished single-parent household, he emerges as a conscientious son and a gifted student for whom books offer a sanctuary. Devoted to his mother, Maria, Padilla is rooted in both Catholic Dominican and New York heritage. With the help of mentors like Father Mike and Jeff, as well as his teachers and friends, Padilla learns to navigate the complexities of his life with grace and humor, earning scholarships to Princeton, Oxford, and ultimately Stanford.

However, Padilla is far from a paragon, as he himself admits. He is frequently ashamed of his poverty and his mother’s inability to speak English. He ignores his younger brother, Yando, and often succumbs to vengeful behavior, such as when he plays a prank on a classmate who has been making crude, sexist jokes about his mother. The admission of these flaws presents Padilla the narrator as deeply self-aware. He feels no flaw more keenly than his inability to “out” himself as an undocumented migrant, which fills him with “self-loathing.” Yet Padilla is a dynamic character who grows to embrace his undocumented identity, strengthen his relationship with Yando, and follow his own distinctive, unique path.

Maria Elena Peralta

Maria arrives in New York with her family at the age of twenty-nine. Back in Santo Domingo, she had been a director of permits. Though her husband decides to leave the US after a few years, Maria stays on in New York so she can offer Padilla and his younger brother, Yando, a better life. In the ensuing period of poverty, Maria reveals herself to be endlessly resourceful. For instance, when Padilla and Yando find it difficult to eat the cafeteria food at their shelter, Maria fights tooth and nail for permission to cook in their room.

Though afraid of taking up a full-time job for fear of being deported, Maria is a highly intelligent woman, as Padilla discovers when she explains South American history. Later, she qualifies for the GED as well as a catechism certificate. Maria is known for her mix of pride and principles. For instance, when the family loses their apartment, she does not seek help from her sisters. Similarly, although marrying her boyfriend, Carlos, who is a permanent resident, will help legalize her citizenship status, Maria refuses to do so unless he annuls his first marriage so they can be married in the Catholic Church.

Yando Padilla Peralta

Padilla’s younger brother, New York–born Yando is the only member of the family who is an official American citizen. Unlike eloquent Padilla, Yando’s innate intelligence is often masked under a languid demeanour. For example, though his reluctance to talk as a small child has Maria worried, he soon begins to converse volubly. Later, he receives admission letters from Duke and Amherst. Though Yando desires his older brother’s attention, he also feels enormous pressure to live up to his example. Consequently, he develops a loving but prickly relationship with Padilla, bristling whenever Maria compares him to his older brother. Though Padilla tends to underestimate Yando’s difficulties because Yando is a citizen, he ultimately understands the pressure his younger brother faces and develops greater empathy for him.


Unlike Padilla’s mother, Padilla’s father is never named in the memoir, existing solely as “Dad.” Fifty-four when Yando is born, Padilla’s father is a gentle man, more laid-back than fiery Maria. Although Padilla views his father’s departure from New York as a betrayal for a long time, Padilla slowly begins to understand things from his father’s point of view, especially the older man’s difficulties in forging a new life in New York from scratch. Padilla eventually develops a better relationship with his father, whose unconditional approval and love are positive influences in Padilla’s life.


Introduced to Maria by Padilla’s aunt and uncle, Tia Altagracia and Tio Jesuito, Carlos is a Dominican immigrant who owns an auto repair shop in the Bronx. Described as having “bulging biceps” and a “Wesley Snipes haircut,” Carlos becomes Maria’s boyfriend and a reliable father figure for Padilla and Yando, who soon start calling him “Dad.”

Father Mike

Six-and-a-half-foot tall Father Mike is a skilled basketball player and Catholic priest at Resurrection Church, a combination which has the neighborhood children addressing him as “Pops.” Kind and wise, Father Mike often guides Padilla on practical matters, such as how to deal with bullies, as well as ethical concerns, like paying a bill for items Padilla has vandalized. His death from cancer while Padilla is enrolled at Oxford proves devastating for Maria, Padilla, and Yando.


When Padilla first meets Jeff, he is the art teacher at the Brunswick Shelter art program in which Padilla is enrolled. Tall and white with “wavy hair,” Jeff soon takes an interest in academically gifted Padilla. In an event that alters Padilla’s life trajectory, Jeff suggests that Padilla apply for a scholarship to the private prep school Collegiate. Significantly, Jeff, who works in a tiny art studio, also helps class-conscious Padilla see that money is not the end of one’s pursuits. Though Jeff moves to Paris to pursue his passion in photography, he and Padilla stay in regular touch.


Missy, described by Padilla as “a New Jersey native,” is Padilla’s life partner. A graduate student of social work at Fordham University when she meets Padilla, Missy is humorous and empathetic. In her work, she advocates for truant children, especially those from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds, which Padilla admires. After finishing her graduate degree, Missy moves to Stanford, where Padilla is enrolled as a PhD student, and he says he has been a “happy alien” since.

Dr. Russell

Dr. Russell is the Greek and Latin studies professor at Collegiate who helps Padilla clarify his interest in the classics. Measured and patient, she instills in Padilla a lifelong learning ethic of focus: “Read the words.”


An “Upper-West-Side white boy,” Nick is Padilla’s best friend at Collegiate. Significantly, he is the first of his privileged friends to whom Padilla discloses his immigration status. Nick’s anguished response on Padilla’s behalf reveals the math-loving, self-effacing young man to be empathetic as well.


Padilla’s Collegiate classmate Derrick is a politically aware man who has grown up near Padilla’s Spanish Harlem neighborhood. In his frequent phone calls from Brown, Derrick often questions Padilla’s choice to date white women, which he views as a betrayal of Black and Latino women. Although Padilla disagrees with Derrick, debating with him helps Padilla to hone his political views.


Amanda is a “Latina New Yorker” and Padilla’s Princeton classmate. One of his closest friends at Princeton, Amanda later offers to marry Padilla so he can gain a green card, an offer which touches Padilla but which he declines for ethical reasons.

Miriam Jordan

A Wall Street Journal reporter, Jordan is instrumental in getting Padilla to share his immigration status publicly. Not only is Jordan’s feature on Padilla sensitive and empathetic, she also encourages him to see the importance his story carries for other undocumented immigrants.

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