As Sarasota's Alejandro Peralta strolled through Johns Hopkins University in March, he knew it was the next step along a path where “every decision, every calculated step" had led him.
The path began before he was born.
That trail began because of the sacrifices made by his parents, Carlos Peralta and Johanna Jacome, who had immigrated from Ecuador.
Because of the hardships his family experienced along the way, Alejandro wants to make the most of every opportunity.
Carlos immigrated from Ecuador to the U.S. at 19 years old in 2000. Throughout his life, he had seen college graduates in Ecuador who were underemployed, such as taxi drivers who held doctoral degrees.
“There are private schools that are very good, expensive too, but in the end, you’ve got your degree in a place that you can’t use it most of the time," Carlos said about education in Ecuador.
While living in Worcester, Massachusetts, Carlos met and married Johanna, who was on vacation from Ecuador. Not long afterwards, Alejandro was born.
The couple were both filled with dreams, but as undocumented immigrants, the way forward was not easy.
“Every time when we went to work or to take Alejandro to school, we were risking everything,” Carlos said.
“We always believed in the American dream,” Carlos said. “We knew that millions of people did it already before us, so why not us? We knew if we did the right thing, paying our taxes, living out of trouble, we had a lot of chances to eventually get our citizenship, and that is what happened.”
Carlos became a citizen in 2017 and Johanna in 2018.
Today, Carlos works on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for Bay to Bay Test and Balance. He is currently working on systems at NASA. Johanna is a metrology engineer for Omnia Scientific.
A plan years in the making
From a young age, Alejandro felt a deep drive to help others as well as a passion for anatomy and the brain.
By fifth grade, he memorized the bones of the body and was working out a pathway to medical school.
“I found out that just researching the brain isn't enough,” he said. “I wanted to contribute to society. I wanted to contribute to the betterment of human health, so that’s why neurosurgery was such an attractive option to me. I was very lucky to find out so young, so I could be so focused on one dream.”
There have been many early mornings and late nights involved, but he has been rewarded by the Father Connie Dougherty Memorial Scholarship Fund and with a merit-based scholarship from Johns Hopkins University. He graduated from Sarasota High School seventh in his class in May.
Alejandro said he took every advanced course available, participating in the School of Excellence in Math, Science, and Technology and Advanced International Certificate of Education programs. Currently, he is working with tutors on college-level courses including physics, chemistry, biology and calculus.
His goal is to double major in neuroscience and molecular and cellular biology with a minor in medical Spanish.
Behind his goals, he said, is a sense of gratitude and responsibility regarding the educational opportunities in his life, along with his parents' decision to immigrate to the U.S.
"I always have the reminder that if (my parents) were able to get this far, having to work three times as hard as everyone else, I know that in my position, being born here and having those opportunities right here for the picking, I have no excuse to not reach my goals and even go beyond that as a physician," Alejandro said.
Carlos said the education his children are receiving in the U.S. is "the most important gift you can give to your kids."
He knew his family could never have achieved its dreams in an environment like the one he left 23 years ago in Ecuador.
Few people could afford student visas to study abroad. The degrees they earned in Ecuador were often not useful, he said.
Having Alejandro accepted at Johns Hopkins University is a dream come true for everyone in the family.
"That was what we've been looking for, what we've worked for," Johanna said. "Every moment that we've spent talking to them, always telling them how it's important to work hard for your dreams, I (can see it happening) right now."
Due to his goal to increase the accessibility of health care everywhere, Alejandro plans to practice neurosurgery in Ecuador, in addition to the U.S.
“The American Dream really exists,” Carlos said. “If you work hard, with honesty, eventually the dream becomes a reality.”
All in the family
Alejandro wanted to avoid placing financial responsibility for additional educational opportunities on his parents.
In 2017, after Hurricane Irma damaged several properties by the Peralta home in Siesta Key, Alejandro, alongside his now-13-year-old brother, Santhiago, founded a home care business, BrosSK.
Carlos said as a result, Alejandro has paid for his own tutoring and SAT classes, as well as tennis lessons and United States Tennis Association tournaments.
His business also is rewarding for him due to the time spent with his siblings.
Every afternoon, the three siblings do their homework together, with one teaching the other.
They’ve also managed to inspire one another; Mia, who is 9, and Santhiago both intend to become neurosurgeons as well.
“It’s like a superpower — just with your hands, you can save people’s lives,” said Santhiago. “And I want to do that with my brother and sister.”
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.