Be The Hero: Get to Know Lorella Praeli's Story
Sep 25, 2015
Lorella Praeli is a DREAMer activist and the Director of Latino Outreach for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Born in Ica, Peru, 27-year-old Lorella Praeli overcame huge obstacles in her early childhood. At the age of 2, she was pinned by a car in a devastating accident that resulted in the loss of her right leg. Lorella's father fought hard to find his daughter the best possible treatment, flying to Orlando, Fla., to meet one-on-one with doctors and plea his case at Shriners Hospital. He traveled to Shriners despite the fact that Shriners had already rejected their case, confident that if the doctors just met his daughter they could not turn her away. He was right.
Praeli began treatment at Shriners at age 4, and continued to make the difficult trek to Orlando multiple times each year to receive treatment for her challenging high amputation — and to learn to walk with a prosthetic. Over time, as the constant travel from Peru to Florida became an incredible strain on the Praeli family (and disrupted Praeli's education), her parents made the difficult decision to make a permanent move to the U.S. so Lorella would be closer to her treatment.
When Praeli was 10, her mother brought her and her sister Maria to live in the U.S. permanently. They settled in the small town of New Milford, Conn., where Praeli’s mother Chela had a sister, Mirtha. The adjustment for Chela was profound: she sacrificed her job as a psychiatrist in Peru to become a housekeeper in Connecticut.
Praeli, meanwhile, acclimated well and excelled at school. In her first year in the U.S., she advanced from a second grade reading level to a fifth grade level within the course of a single school year — moving into step with her English-speaking peers seamlessly despite the language difference.
But as a pre-teen, Praeli was aggressively cyber-bullied — targeted not only for her physical difference, but as a person of color and an immigrant. One particular middle school episode was deeply traumatic, but ultimately emboldening — it's a period Praeli credits with spurring her to claim her voice.
In high school, she went on to become closely involved with the Anti-Defamation League's "Names Can Really Hurt Us" program, working to promote bullying awareness and reconciliation. Praeli graduated top of her senior class and received a full scholarship to Quinnipiac University (where she went on to graduate with Summa Cum Laude honors). But despite the academic successes, transition from high school to college marked a period of intense shame. When applying for college and in need of a social security number to complete her FAFSA application, Praeli was shocked to discover that she was an undocumented immigrant — her mother had kept that detail from her all these years, in an effort to protect her daughter. The revelation initially sent Praeli into a deep, consuming cycle of shame. The stigma of being an "illegal immigrant" and an "alien" had seeped in during her time in U.S., and the truth about her own status threw her into doubt about her ability to pursue her education and her career without risk of discovery or deportation.
College became an exercise in hiding. When Praeli eventually "came out" — a spontaneous admission at a Connecticut Democrats press conference — she emerged an entirely changed person. Activism soon followed. Praeli first fought to secure "in state" tuition rates for undocumented DREAMers in Connecticut — a success that led her to become the Director of Advocacy and Policy for United We Dream (the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country).
As UWD's Director of Advocacy and Policy, she went on to work as a conduit between the Latino community and the Obama Administration, championing the landmark creation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents). In November 2014, Praeli and her mother stood arm-in-arm in an audience of DREAMers and DREAMer supporters in Las Vegas, as President Obama announced the expansion of DACA and the creation of DAPA. Currently, DAPA is being held up in the courts and has been effectively halted, due to a Republican injunction filed in February of 2015. The DAPA delay hits particularly close to home for Praeli, as her mother Chela would directly benefit from the relief and safety it provides — a work permit and protection from deportation.
In May 2015, Praeli was invited to join Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, as the Director of Latino Outreach. She marvels at her own triumph — at the incredible journey she has taken from undocumented immigrant to an effective policy shaper on the national stage.
She considers to call herself a DREAMer (even though she received her green card when she married in 2012), and identifies closely with their struggle and their vision. Her dream for the 11 million undocumented families in the U.S. is that they come to feel "embraced by America" — and find relief in the adopted country they call home.
Photo Credit: Getty Images (Archival in Video)