For a large part of Daniel Del Real’s life, he found it difficult to fit in. Danny (as he likes to be called) was born in 1983 in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, to parents from the city of Zacatecas. As the story goes, Danny’s mother was 16 or 17 years old when she met his father, who was a traveling accordion player in the region.
“I think for her it was love at first sight,” said Danny.
The family relocated to Tijuana when Danny’s mother was pregnant with him, her ninth child. While unsure of the exact reason for the move, Danny suspects it had something to do with the high demand for musicians in the nightlife-heavy city.
“That [being a musician] really became my father’s ticket to get out of Zacatecas and really start doing something with his life,” Danny said.
Tijuana was also closer to the United States. Every summer, Danny’s parents traveled to California as migrant laborers to pick strawberries. A year after Danny was born, his mother decided to move to California permanently while some of Danny’s elder siblings stayed behind in Tijuana with his father.
Consequently, Danny spent his childhood in and around Los Angeles, where his mother worked at a private school as a teacher’s assistant. He said he appreciates his mother and all that she has done for his family.
“She really made it a habit of telling us her life experiences,” said Danny. “She always tells me about all these things that she went through living in Mexico and how I should be happy that I don’t have to live those things.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Danny began experimenting with art. In second grade, he pored over illustrated children’s books in his classroom – especially ones featuring marine life. Danny showed enough promise to capture the attention of a teacher, who encouraged him to enter the school art competition. Danny did enter, and won.
“That was one of the first instances that really ingrained in me that I wanted to be an artist,” said Danny.
When Danny was 13, an aunt from Indianapolis visited his family in California and persuaded his mother to relocate. Like the first major move, some of Danny’s older siblings stayed in Los Angeles while the younger children made the move to the Midwest.
The transition was not easy for Danny. Two weeks after arriving, he entered high school, knowing no one.
“The first couple years I was here, I was really depressed,” said Danny.
There were a few Latino students at his school, but Danny was fluent in English and considered an outsider by them. He was, however, too Latino to fit in with the majority of his American peers.
“I found it really difficult to fit in with Americans and Latinos, so I was in this limbo,” he said, adding that it only got better when “I stopped caring about who I fit in with and just started to get over it, basically.”
After high school, Danny went to college. After receiving a scholarship from the Indiana Latino Scholarship Fund and having it matched by the school, he started studying Graphic Design and French at the University of Indianapolis. While freshman year was a struggle, Danny had several teachers who believed in and supported him, especially his French professor.
A major setback occured when after his freshman year, Danny learned that the scholarship would not be renewed.
“I thought okay, this is it for me,” he remembered.
As the school year approached, however, Danny got a notification to sign up for classes. Someone had anonymously paid his tuition and fees. In the end, he was able to figure out that it was his French professor.
“I didn’t want to tell [her] that I knew… [so] just out of the blue, I gave her a hug. I think that’s how she knew that I knew, but I didn’t actually say anything about it,” he said emotionally. “She got me through college.”
While not the first in his family to attend college, Danny was the first to graduate. Since completing his degree, he worked at a graphic design company, started a furniture restoration business and currently works at his uncle’s furniture store. Danny and a few friends even rented a studio in Fountain Square from 2009-2014. Alongside all his occupations, Danny has continued to pursue art.
Civic engagement has become increasingly important to Danny. He helped start Indy’s only visual arts organization geared toward promoting Latino culture, Nopal Cultural. In his free time, he is a volunteer curator for the International Marketplace Coalition’s cultural artifact collection.
“I believe in what the International Marketplace Coalition is doing,” said Danny. “This is my neighborhood. I want to see all these cool ideas come to life.”