Diane Guerrero, star of “Orange is the New Black” and “Jane the Virgin,” shares her personal story in her new book, ‘In the Country We Love: The True Story of a Family Divided’. Guerrero was just 14 years old the day she came home to an empty house- her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., she was able to remain in this country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career.

 

From a young age you had an interest in acting but you didn’t start acting till later in your life, 24 to be exact. What was the transition into entertainment like for you?

It was very discouraging. I thought I was too old. I always wanted to be on TV but didn’t see very many people who looked like me. Growing up, that was discouraging. Then, at 14, I lost my family -well my family unit- I was devastated and it discouraged me from pursuing a lot of things but I knew I had to ‘find my own way.’ I didn’t have a strong background and I felt like I needed come from a wealthier family or a more established home in order to pursue acting. I didn’t have a strong foundation so I was so scared.

How did you overcome that fear and dive in anyway?

Through the love I had; through my love for acting- my love for the arts. Political Science interested me but what trumped that and everything else was how much I loved the arts. Having a love for it is what guided me. ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about it’ and it made me so sad that I wasn’t living my truth as an artist- I went into a very difficult depression,  I was drinking regularly and partying to numb the pain.

What helped you find your ‘way out’ of depression, I’m sure it wasn’t just something that happened overnight- what helped you get out of that state and away from negative feelings and thoughts?

I reached a really low place and I knew if I didn’t ‘something about it- something bad’ would happen so I made the decision that I needed to see a therapist.

Not everyone has the willingness or belief in therapy, what do you tell them?

I know, there is a huge stigma around therapy and if you can see a therapist, I suggest it. If not the biggest thing I urge you to do is what she made me do; she constantly encouraged me to ‘find my happy place.’

What was that ‘happy place’ for you?

My happy place was the arts. Museums. Going to see plays, being an actor, theater, dancing. Performing. I could not stop thinking about being an actor.

I had done theater in high school, I went to a preforming arts high school. It’s all I thought about. I knew I needed to act and in my days at the law office, thinking about being a lawyer and working at the bar- it all made me just say, ‘you know what? I’m gonna go for it- what is my other option?’

What do you feel stopped you before ?

Myself. My own thoughts. I talked myself out of a lot of things. I would say, “I can’t go for that…. I don’t have money – I’m broke.” These things in my head; battling identity issues, my parents’ status, and noise from people around me who at times made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. But after getting fed up with the life I was living, and how bad I felt every day, I decided to start taking acting classes and that made me happy again- for the first time in a long time I was surrounded by people who felt the same way, who danced like me and expressed themselves like me-and little by little, I started gaining more confidence.

There were people three and four times my age who were just learning to act! ‘Here I was putting all these roadblocks in front of me, ‘I’m too old, I’m too this and too that’ and there were people here who were living their lives for themselves, not for Disney, not for Fox, not for their parents, just for themselves.  People who were acting because it made them happy and that’s when I decided I needed to do what made me happy: I needed to be an actor.

You’ve come a long way since that decision, and have been on two big shows, Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, do you feel you were prepared for the roles you have today?

‘Yess, absolutely.’ I worked really hard. ‘I went on Craigslist, girl, I did so many smaller gigs, I even made videos in my backyard- I tried everything!’ I called everywhere and finally found a studio who wanted to help. It was here I found a manager and started to work my way into acting, but I say this being very honest, I didn’t have any level of grandeur, I just worked really hard and knew I had to work. My parents showed me this from a young age- I’m not afraid of hard work- I knew my success was going to be determined by my work and I was okay with that.

The only thing I didn’t do was stop, I kept working, no matter how hard things got- I kept going. I kept showing up. Showing up and being true to yourself is the best thing you can do. To be honest, even today I go into casting rooms and there are so many people who are so talented- I get nervous, but have to tell myself that despite what I see around me I have to stay true to who I am. People might seem more put-together than you, smarter than you, more glamorous or beautiful- but you can’t worry about what other people have- you have to worry about you- about what you bring to the table.

Only you can bring you and that is powerful-  no one is you and that is your power.

What advice would you give to a young person who is going through a similar situation?

At this age, sometimes when you don’t know what to do, you give up because you start to think it’s not for you, but you have to try, you can’t wait for life to happen to you, you have to go out and get it- you have to be resourceful, and you have to take action. Even if you do a bad job or don’t get something right away, you have to keep going.

No one will hand you your dream- you have to work for it.

And always remember-

It’s never too late, you’re never too old. It’s okay to take time for yourself and realize what you really really want. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it never will. We have so much fear and ingrained ideas of what other people think and what we ‘think we should be doing’ but, ultimately, you have to live for yourself.

You have to do what makes you happy- regardless of what other people think.

Your book talks a lot about the noise of the outside- what other people think- feelings of inadequacy and feeling left out, can you talk about a time when you felt this fear and what the experience was like for you?

It would have to be the day my parents were taken. I came home to a house that looked normal, my mom’s food was on the stove, uncooked because before she could finish, the officers came and arrested her. The house seemed so normal, everything that day started the way they always do, my dad wished me a good day,  I saw my mom, hopped on the T (subway) and went to school. It seemed normal, but it wasn’t. I knew that day my life would change forever. The day we feared our whole lives came true and for a long time I couldn’t deal with the trauma it brought.

To this day, I wonder…

I wonder if they [the immigration officers] remember me..did anyone think of me? When they took my parents, did they say ‘hey they have a daughter?’

From your experience, what are better solutions to navigate the legal system?

This is a big issue and a great question- I think we should all give this more thought and more action- no walls, that’s for sure. Stop deporting people, we have dreams too, we have families. That’s what we need to see, these are humans. We matter too. Just because my parents are undocumented doesn’t mean they don’t matter, it doesn’t make them bad people, we aren’t criminals, my mom is not a criminal.

We have a lot of work to do. There are kids suffering every single day. We need more representatives in office who are going to meet our needs- we need more people in office that come from similar situations and care about these issues. We have the largest growing population of young adults and need to understand we have a huge responsibility.

If we separate families, we need better forms of follow up. Who are these families? Realize they are people, they have friends, they have goals, they have love for this country. We matter too.

I’m American just as much as I am Latina.

We are not alone.

And ‘we shouldn’t have to feel alone.’

This book is for every young girl, every young boy, every Latina, and everyone who has ever felt alone, or felt forgotten, please know you are worthy of your dreams. Be unafraid to reach for your goals, no matter where you come from, no matter what you have been through, don’t let anyone deny you of your {American} dream.

 

 

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of Diane’s resilience and journey. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families like Guerrero’s and on a system that fails them. Diane Guerrero volunteers with the nonprofit Immigrant Legal Resource Center. She was named an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization by the White House. For more, follow Diane on Twitter at @dianeguerrero__ and be sure to check out her new book In the Country We Love , available online and in stores near you.

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