After hearing the name Diane Guerrero, many think of her success on television. Guerrero’s best known roles include her gigs as Maritza Ramo on Orange Is the New Black and Lina on Jane The Virgin. In addition to acting, however, Guerrero has also worked to share her personal stories related to deportation, fought for immigration reform, used her platform to create national change and was even nominated by President Obama to be a White House Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization.
The Campus Events Board Issues Committee and the Center for Student Engagement brought in Diane Guerrero to UT’s Student Union on Thursday night for a night centered around impactful conversation.
When Guerrero was just 14 years old, her parents and older brother were deported, leaving her on her own in many ways.
In her Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times, Guerrero further recounted the moment she realized her fears had come to life.
“I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn’t there,” Guerrero wrote. “Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over. Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.”
Guerrero noted that her story is one that is all too common.
Maria Urias, a junior majoring in sociology, connected with Guerrero from the crowd about her own families’ experience immigrating to the U.S. from Brazil. She also voiced the importance of creating an understanding environment.
“Hearing stories like hers gives us a better perception of what people go through and helps us understand the experiences that aren’t our own,” Urias said. “Having speakers like her come and talk is one of my favorite things about UT.”
As Guerrero traveled back to her beginnings as an actress, she noted that she came alive when involved with the arts, and her parents saw this, too. However, Guerrero took notice to the lack of representation of people like her in the industry.
“Growing up, I didn’t really see people who looked like me being represented on television or in film,” Guerrero said. “When you grow up like this, you don’t think it could become a part of your reality, and it also seemed like a fantasy.”
Guerrero’s goal wasn’t to become famous, but she wanted to see if she could do it, and she loved the way in which acting helped her better understand those around her. She was able to empathize with other people who were living differently than she was.
For Guerrero, CW’s Jane The Virgin was the first time she got to see a Latinx family represented on television, and it represented who she was.
“I was working with people who were really interested in telling the story and really wanted to depict a Latinx family living a day to day Latin American life,” Guerrero said. “We wanted to show you guys that we had some of the same problems and the same wants as everyone else. It was such a beautiful story about family and perseverance. I was glad to just be a part of that family.”
Guerrero also noted the fact that the acting industry can be very rooted in stereotypes. While her first roles were specifically Latinx characters, Guerrero noted that it’s important to tell diverse stories that include people of color.
“Yes, of course you can play a criminal or somebody that committed a crime or someone who is in jail, but you can also play a lawyer, a doctor, a social activist or anything. I’m still very proud of Jane The Virgin because of its presentation,” she said.
Guerrero is very proud of Orange Is The New Black as well because of the way that it represents communities that are often pushed to the side.
“I think that Orange has always done such a beautiful job of presenting a community or a people that have been cast away, especially in this country that relies so heavily on incarceration,” Guerrero said. “We kind of have this habit of criminalizing and throwing people away, and I think that the shows we have seen or any representation of prison in the past have really been one-sided. Orange shows the actual systemic barriers.”
The last season of Orange Is The New Black touched on a lot of issued with immigration and ICE detention centers, which Guerrero felt very connected to.
Guerrero hopes that the viewers take away messages from her character Maritza’s experience with deportation.
“I hope to shed light on the fact that there are many different immigration stories. Everyone’s experience is so different, regardless of what they show you in the news,” Guerrero said. “You see that children are taking the legal stand or you see that there are language barriers and no language assistants. And then you see what is happening now is that we are criminalizing political asylum. These are some of the things we try to hit on the show.”
Noé Monárrez, a junior studying child and family studies as well as psychology, voiced how important it is for people to familiarize themselves with issues such as immigration and deportation.
“I think it really demonstrates to others how someone’s lived experience can fuel their career and the work they do outside their career,” Monárrez said. “Doing stories like these helps humanize immigrants, especially in the time of this political climate where we’re really looked down upon and viewed negatively.”
Guerrero hopes to continue her work on the show and not stay silent. She aims to bridge the gap between immigrants and the rest of the U.S. population and help others understand how many in the country are living.
Guerrero also works as an activist outside the world of acting. She was a co-signer of the Querida Familia, or Dear Family, letter, which responded to the shootings in El Paso that directly targeted the Latinx and immigrant community, as well as the detainment of 700 migrants at a chicken plant in Mississippi.
Guerrero voiced her fear and concern over the fact that the El Paso shooters were motivated by the current U.S. administration. She also discussed the images of the kids who were left behind when their parents did not return home from the chicken plant.
“This letter was to address our humanity. It wasn’t a political letter. We were just saying ‘hey’ to our community and that includes everyone,” Guerrero said. “We’re saying that you are our community, we love you and we just want to reach your humanity. We want you to look at us and see yourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to fight fire with love letters, but we didn’t see any other way. It was a call to action to say that there is a big problem in this country that needs to be addressed.”
Additionally, Guerrero is the author of In the Country We Love, a memoir that tells the story of her parents being undocumented immigrants. The book is now being used to create dialogue with students across the country and to teach high school students about immigration.
“This book is something that needs to be learned at a young age,” Guerrero said. “It is understanding that our country is made up of immigrants. And our country has a lot of beautiful communities that help our country be who she is.”
Additionally, Guerrero advised the crowd on finding a voice to create impactful conversation.
“Do you ever feel like you care about so many things and want to do something, but don’t know how?” Guerrero said. “All you gotta do is just tell your story. Whatever that looks like. Every experience is one of value.”