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 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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 1231 words.)

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