Actress and political activist Diane Guerrero addresses immigration reform
Colombian actress and political activist, Diane Guerrero—known for her roles as Maritza Ramos in “Orange is the New Black” and Lina on “Jane the Virgin”—spoke to students about immigration reform in Graham Chapel Tuesday evening.
The talk was part of Student Union’s Trending Topics speaker series and was sponsored by Student Union and the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS).
Guerrero, whose parents were both undocumented immigrants from Colombia, became aware of the harsh reality that accompanies immigration laws at the age of 14, when her parents were deported and she was left to live alone in Boston. After the traumatic separation from her parents, Guerrero continued high school in Boston and went on to study at Regis College where she majored in political science and communications.
“I just always thought that we were going to be OK,” Guerrero said. “I always just thought if I continued my studies, I’d be OK.”
It wasn’t until she got to college and struggled with her own mental health that Guerrero began to take acting classes for “pure survival.”
“It was so I could give myself an opportunity to envision myself in these roles and different places because I was so stuck,” Guerrero said. “We are not just one thing.”
Landing her role in “Orange is the New Black” was Guerrero’s first big break; however, it wasn’t until her acting career really took off and she began doing interviews that she found herself lying about her parents. That was when Guerrero decided that she wanted to make a bigger impact on immigration reform.
“I cared about families being separated. I cared about someone in my position. [It was so] dehumanizing; and so, I thought that I could do something in the smallest way possible, which was to share my story,” Guerrero said. “And really, that turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me because it truly did liberate me.”
Guerrero, who has fielded negative comments in the past about being a Latin-American actress, believes that it is going to take a lot of work for the country to overcome immigration stereotypes.
“People would be like, ‘Go back to your country,’ but they don’t understand this history,” Guerrero said. “The fact of the matter is the immigration system in this country is broken.”
One message Guerrero had for college students was to not tie themselves down to one career path. She encouraged those in attendance to go out and find what they were really passionate about.
“We are not limited to one thing. Look inside yourself and see what really motivates you,” Guerrero said.
Sophomores and members of ALAS Javier Zarazua and Nydia Monroy believe that Guerrero was an excellent speaker and a good fit for ALAS.
“I think the Association of Latin American Students was really happy to finally have someone who kind of represents all the sorts of values that we cherish,” Zarazua said. “She’s a very big advocate for those who are undocumented and specifically because of the experiences she’s had. I think it was really important for Wash. U…to see that it is possible to be a woman of color, but also very successful and have these struggles, but also be able to get through them.”
“I think that the amount of work that [previous] ALAS members did to make sure she came to campus was super impactful and the fact that we got her is just a step in the right direction,” Monroy said. “We hope to keep that trend going and have more speakers like her who are successful in representing the Latinx community.”