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Meet Diane Guerrero: Author, Actress, and Activist
The Orange is the New Black star talks books, immigration, and writing a memoir
You might know her as Maritza in Orange Is the New Black, or Lina in Jane the Virgin. You might know her as the author of the memoir In the Country We Love. Or you might know her as an impassioned speaker on immigration reform—whether at the Families Belong Together rally this past June, or in any of the countless interviews she has given since revealing that she was separated from her family at the age of 14 when her parents were deported to their native Colombia.
Meet Diane Guerrero, the BOTM celebrity guest judge this month and a triple threat—an actress, activist, and author. We asked her a few questions about her memoir, her activism, and life since telling her story.
Book of the Month: In the Country We Love details the trauma you experienced at the age of 14 when you came home to discover that your parents had been deported. You’ve said that you decided to share this story so that others facing similar traumas would know that they aren’t alone. Have you had the chance to meet with readers who, like yourself, have been separated from their families? How has hearing their stories affected you?
Diane Guerrero: Yes, I have been so moved by people’s reactions to my books. Telling your story along with all of your triumphs and flaws is a vulnerable process, so having people come up to me and tell me that my story inspired them to tell their stories or continue their education or pursue their dreams is an incredible feeling. I want to encourage other people to tell their stories because in telling our truths we can heal, connect with each other, and learn from our pasts.
BOTM: What made you want to write a book?
DG: At first I was afraid to open up because immigration was such a taboo issue when I was growing up, and I felt people would not understand my story. Then when people were speaking out about DACA, I tried to see myself in all of this. How could I help? I was tired of hiding and I wanted to use my platform to speak up. In sharing my story, I felt such a sense of relief at not having to hold it in any longer. We need more education on the immigration system so that people understand the complexities and gray areas and treat it as a human issue. I want to continue doing my part to help.
BOTM: The Air You Breathe, your recommendation as BOTM’s guest judge this month, is about two girls who find their way to fame at an early age. Did that storyline resonate with you?
DG: Yes, absolutely. Like Dores, even as a small child, I too had big dreams. Dores and Graça were able to create new lives for themselves and new identities through their art. When they listened to their guts and decided to pursue music instead of following the directions society was pushing them toward, they were able to create new paths for themselves. Graça’s dad led her to believe that the only thing she was meant for was to be married. Dores believed she was destined for more than that. With fame comes responsibility—and that resonated with me because I too found responsibility in an uncharted territory when I decided to tell my story.
BOTM: You recently published My Family Divided—a version of your memoir geared toward young adults. How did this change your storytelling approach? What’s something you really wanted to convey? Anything you decided to leave out?
DG: I always envisioned my story being told to a younger audience. As a kid I would have loved to have a book about someone going through a similar experience. I want kids of immigrant families to know that they are not alone. I wanted them to have hope and know that no matter what happens, they will get through this. I also wanted to help bring current immigration policies to light to build understanding between our nation’s different communities. Change begins with education, so I am so happy I had the opportunity to partner with the amazing writer Erica Moroz to adapt my story for a middle-grade audience.
BOTM: In the Country We Love demonstrates the damaging effects on children who are separated from their immigrant parents. What is your view on the recent wave of deportations?
DG: I feel so torn apart and appalled by the recent wave of family separations and deportations. It has brought up memories of my childhood, and I cannot imagine what it’s like for these children to be put into prison. The trauma that this administration is inflicting on kids is something that will stay with them their whole lives, and it’s unacceptable.
BOTM: You wear many hats: actress, writer, activist …. How do you balance the demands of these various aspects of your work?
DG: I have to take it one day at a time. My interests extend to many different areas and I am deeply passionate about a variety of issues. However, I know that I can only focus on what is in front of me, taking it all as it comes, and in turn I am able to devote myself entirely to current projects and areas of activism. Always striving to do my best, I find inspiration from the people around me—their passions and their love for what they do. By carving out time for myself and spending quality time with those who support me and inspire me, I know that I can better ground myself and apply myself to my work. When we work together, finding love and passion, we are able to uplift each other. From there we can all thrive, grow, and improve not only our lives but the lives of those around us.
BOTM: Finally, you speak a lot about hope: hope that your parents will one day return to the United States, hope for immigration reform that helps keep families together. What is one thing you’re hoping for in 2018?
DG: In 2018, I hope that the nation will wake up to the deep-rooted injustices that are being surfaced by the current administration. I hope that in November people show up to the polls and vote. And I hope this is the beginning of much needed change and growth for our nation.