On Sunday, dozens of elected officials joined Peralta’s family and hundreds of community members to unveil “State Senator Jose R. Peralta Way” on 37th Avenue and 89th Street.
Peralta, who served in the Assembly from 2002 to 2010 and the State Senate from 2010 until his untimely death last November, died of complications from cancer. He was just 47 years old.
At the street renaming ceremony, Evelyn Peralta, his wife, said the senator’s calling was to serve people. Even on his last day, just before Thanksgiving, he was giving out free turkeys for families in need.
“He did it because he understood the importance of giving back,” she said.
Peralta also sacrificed time with his family, she said, including missing family dinners and busy weekends due to events and frequent trips to Albany.
Some vacations were even cut short because he had to return to the state capital for a vote or passing the budget.
“At the end, he sacrificed his health to make our world a better place,” Peralta said. “Jose is a hero in my eyes.”
Jose Peralta made history in 2010 by becoming the first Dominican-American elected to the State Senate. Local lawmakers who paid tribute to him on Sunday described Peralta as a kind man but a fierce advocate for immigrants, workers and young people.
“He always stood up for the underdog,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, who co-sponsored legislation for the street renaming.
“Everything Jose did was for this community,” added Assemblyman Michael DenDekker. “He cared so much.”
Peralta is also remembered for championing the New York State DREAM Act, which he first introduced in Albany in 2013. The bill, which allows undocumented students to receive state tuition assitance, was passed and signed into law this year and also bears his name.
Councilman Francisco Moya, who represents many of the same neighborhoods as Peralta, called his former colleague the “embodiment and symbol of the American dream.”
Moya, who carried the DREAM Act when he was a member of the Assembly, recalled that Peralta used to walk around with a shirt that read “New York State DREAM Act.”
They even made a deal that when the legislation eventually passed, Peralta would wash the t-shirt and Moya would shave his beard.
“He had that great spirit and enthusiasm behind such a serious subject,” Moya said.
The Corona councilman said when they first introduced the bill, they could “barely get ten people” to stand with them. Now, it’s popular to defend immigrant rights.
“He was doing this when no one was talking about it,” he said. “That’s true leadership.”
While most speakers at the street renaming ceremony spoke about Peralta’s professional and political accomplishments, his son, Miles Peralta, shed light on his father’s “silly” side at home.
Miles reminisced about his father picking him up after school and getting a slice of pizza.
“Most of the time he was on his phone working,” he said, “but that was my time with my dad. To me, that was special.”
He also recalled his father taking him to basketball games, playing music in the car and making him laugh at home with funny outfits and dances.
“I miss our family trips,” Peralta said. “It’s just not the same without him.”
Miles added that his father won’t be around when he gets his driver’s license, graduates from school and gets married to start his own family.
“But I know he will always be watching, guiding and cheering me while I accomplish my goals,” he said.
“It’s going to be great walking down this block and looking up at my dad’s name,” Peralta added. “He was an awesome dad.”