Actress and activist Diane Guerrero talks about mental health, family and her career at Kennedy Political Union event
‘I am who I am, and I can’t be anything else’
In honor of National Immigrants Day, the Kennedy Political Union and American University Residence Hall Association held a discussion with actress Diane Guerrero on Oct. 28.
Moderated by Kelly Ma, RHA vice president of diversity and inclusion, Guerrero spoke about her experience as a first-generation Latina actress and how her experiences shaped her career, passion for immigration reform and self-confidence.
“I am who I am, and I can’t be anything else,” she said. “I think that who I am and my story really influences all of my work, but it’s changing.”
Guerrero, known for her roles as Maritza Ramos in “Orange is the New Black” and Lina in “Jane the Virgin,” expressed how important it was to her in the beginning of her career to be vocal about her identity, but no longer feels that it is necessary for it to be the forefront of her work.
“I think I’m just trying to live my life and not have that be the central focus, but just an influence,” she said. “I [want to] tell all kinds of stories, not just ones about family separation and immigration.”
Guerrero has spoken in support of immigration reform, having experienced the consequences of the system herself. When Guerrero was a child, she came home from school one day to find her house empty, her family having been deported to Colombia while she was gone.
She shared her family’s story of deportation in her books “In the Country We Love” and the youth adaptation “My Family Divided,” which influenced her work in advocacy and sharing her experiences. However, Guerrero said the immigration system left her continuously disappointed despite her efforts.
“All of this work is because I thought I could get closer to my family,” she said. “Time and time again, none of that worked.”
Different ways of storytelling, she said, is what’s coming next, and Guerrero plans to be behind the camera, not in front of it — she is already planning on making a documentary about her family in Colombia.
In particular, Guerrero spoke about how she wants to tell different stories going forward in her career, specifically about her family. Hollywood, too, has confined her to a certain type of story; Guerrero said she was typecasted often, playing characters whose main traits involved their status as an immigrant.
“I’ve had to break down a lot of those stereotypes for myself, to say, ‘I can do this role, and this role has nothing to do with my heritage or my ancestry or anything,’ she’s just a person,” she said. “I’ve had to break down a lot of that for myself because those walls are already there.”
Guerrero hopes that her work evolves from 2016 — when she published “In the Country We Love” — to be more honest and more unashamed. She is reaching a point of patience in her life when she no longer feels the need to compare herself to other people, resulting from a desire to be closer with her family in Colombia and years of therapy.
“It’s a process; therapy’s important, wellness is important, self-care is important, you just have to find what works for you, but it certainly needs to be your number one priority, or else everything else just sort of falls apart,” Guerrero said.
In an interview with The Eagle, Guerrero said that the most important thing she’s learned in therapy is “patience.”
“I think we get so caught up with having to catch up … catch up to whom? Everything needs to be at your own pace, at your own time, and know that the universe is working with you, not against you.”
With therapy, Guerrero has also learned important aspects of self-care that have helped her learn more about herself as a person. Instead of being so focused on her career and getting jobs, she said she has learned to appreciate spending time with family — after her dad’s death this year, she found herself regretting not taking the time to visit more.
During the conversation, Latine students in the audience expressed gratitude and support for Guerrero, thanking her for sharing her story on and off the screen.
“You remind me that what I’ve gone through is valid,” one student said. “We need people like you back home,” said another, whose family was also from Colombia.
Throughout the conversation, Guerrero touched on topics of home. While she still plans to work in the U.S., she’s looking at buying property in Colombia, where she’ll spend more time with her family and possibly start one of her own.
She also spoke about the advice she’d give her younger self: “I would tell myself that I didn’t have to be like anybody else,” she said. “What is going to set you apart is not being like anybody else.”
The advice she gave to people in similar situations as her: you belong everywhere, even when people tell you that you don’t.
“You are here to be your best self and to do your best, and that’s all that matters,” Guerrero said.