Immigration has never been an issue that actress and In The Country We Love author Diane Guerrero has had the luxury of ignoring. Although the Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin star is a U.S. citizen by birth, her parents spent years living in the United States illegally, unsuccessfully attempting to gain legal status. Their “situation” was a constant source of stress, fear, and, ultimately, separation. When Guerrero was 14, her parents were detained and deported back to Colombia, which left her to reach adulthood without them.
In 2014, Guerrero went public with her story via a Los Angeles Times op-ed, kicking off a journey that has led to high-profile immigration advocacy, the powerful memoir In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (written with Michelle Burford), and even a potential CBS TV series based on her experience. She’s been keeping the conversation on reform going, including at the Texas Book Festival in Austin Saturday. I had a chance to sit down with her there, and we discussed her past, work, hopes for the future, and — believe it or not — why she is thankful about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign.
Guerrero has been telling her story for two years now, but it hasn’t gotten easier to do so. “It’s always really hard,” she tells Bustle. “You have to relive it every time.”
a challenge she welcomes because she believes that immigration is an issue that
needs to be discussed — not just because of what she and her family went through
but for the millions of others out there, including children, who are facing the same struggle. She loves connecting with others and the mutual support, but opening up and showing her true self has paid off in unexpected ways as well.
“Having to be yourself is probably one of the hardest things to do. For a long time, I never wanted to be myself, and I think that affected my work and my personal life,” says Guerrero. “So, as soon as I started being myself… my acting got better. Part of being an actor is being truthful.”
Between playing Maritza on Orange Is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin, acting has kept her busy, but the actress-slash-advocate finds time to volunteer with organizations like Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Mi Familia Vota. Guerrero also wants to educate through entertainment, and she may get the chance thanks to the new immigration-centric project she’s working on for CBS. It’s still early in the process, but she hopes to see the show made.
“I think it’ll make people understand other people’s struggles, and especially the immigrant struggle, and help them understand that there is really a need for immigration reform and that our immigration system is broken.”
Guerrero tells me that the concept they’ve been working with is a corporate attorney who is inspired by an “incident” to take on immigration cases. “She sort of takes that on because of her painful past,” says Guerrero.
The premise is one that should leave a lot of room to cover the impact of current immigration laws and tell a variety of stories. Guerrero sees it as a way to make people, no matter their stance on the issue, understand what undocumented immigrants in this country experience.
“I want it to educate people. I want to have the conversation,” she says. “I think for a long time, we weren’t talking about immigration; we weren’t talking about separation of families; we weren’t talking about how the visa system is inadequate.”
At this point, it’s unclear in what capacity exactly Guerrero will be involved with the series beyond executive producing. She does plan to appear in the show, but she won’t necessarily play the lawyer at the heart of the story. (Incidentally, if she did, she’d be fulfilling a one-time dream of hers — at least in a way: Guerrero used to dream of becoming an immigration lawyer.)
Either way, Guerrero considers the show “necessary” and is clearly excited about its potential. “I think it’ll be great. I think it’ll open up discussion,” she says. “I think it’ll make people understand other people’s struggles, and especially the immigrant struggle, and help them understand that there is really a need for immigration reform and that our immigration system is broken.”
With the issue proving to be so polarizing in the current presidential election, it’s not surprising that Guerrero calls a possible Trump presidency (and its promise of mass deportation) “scary.” Still, she appreciates what the controversial candidate has done for this country, in a way, and even went so far as to thank him (albeit for being an “a--hole”).
“The issues that are coming up now — immigration, women’s rights, women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter movement — those things have always been a tension for our country,” says Guerrero. “In a way, I’m happy that all these issues have come up to the surface so now we can deal with them. I hope that we will continue on this path. I feel like I’ve never seen people so involved, people so motivated, so I’m really happy.”
Guerrero emphasizes that as much as she loves this country, it has problems that we’ve been ignoring for too long. However, Trump gaining so much support, she says, made it so there was no more “sweeping them under the rug.”
“In a way, I’m happy that all these issues have come up to the surface so now we can deal with them. I hope that we will continue on this path. I feel like I’ve never seen people so involved, people so motivated, so I’m really happy.”
She has made no secret of the fact that she supports Hillary Clinton, but Guerrero has a reminder for us
all that applies no matter who wins come Tuesday: “This is a country, and it’s
not just run by the president or by the government,” she says. “We have to play
our part as well, and I think that now people have seen that because we didn’t
play our part last time, we didn’t necessarily see everything that we needed to
She’s certainly doing her part, so the rest of us had better follow suit.