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Actress Diane Guerrero Inspires Students to Become Warriors in Storytelling

Immigration Reform Activist Known for Roles in ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ‘Encanto’
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At 14 years old, Diane Guerrero returned home from school to an empty house. Her neighbors broke the news that immigration officers deported her Colombian parents and brother. Guerrero was the only member in her immediate family with U.S. citizenship.

Years later, she bravely reenacted the deportation scene as an undocumented inmate in the Netflix series, “Orange Is the New Black.”

“We need to promote a culture of not feeling ashamed about being an immigrant, having parents who come from a war-torn country or having an undocumented status,” said Guerrero, an actress and immigrant rights activist who participated in Cal State Fullerton’s “Beyond the Conversation” series. Hosted by Associated Students Inc. and the Division of Student Affairs, the series invites speakers to campus to engage students in dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Guerrero’s personal experiences inspired her to embrace authentic storytelling in her work. Her notable roles include Maritza Ramos in “Orange Is the New Black,” Isabela Madrigal in Disney’s Oscar-winning film “Encanto,” Lina in the American telenovela “Jane the Virgin” and most recently, Crazy Jane in DC’s superhero television series “Doom Patrol.” 

To Students: ‘You Have a Story to Tell’

In 2011, Guerrero moved to New York City and studied acting at the Susan Batson Studios and met her manager, Josh Taylor. In 2012, she was cast in “Orange Is the New Black.”

During the production of “Orange Is the New Black,” she was surprised when eight episodes extended into seven seasons. When she embodied her role as Maritza Ramos, she shared that her character consistently spit out punch lines and one-liners that helped mitigate her anxiety in performance. She realized through her work on that show that there are “no small roles” in television.

For students aspiring to become actors, she said it’s important to stay open-minded and to not feel disappointed about making mistakes. 

“It’s about the whole picture. Move on, you have a whole story to tell,” Guerrero emphasized.

A trailblazer in her own making, Guerrero continues to pave a path of opportunities for Latino talent in the entertainment industry. 

“Hollywood wants you to be multifaceted but they’ll put you where they’re comfortable, specifically for people of color,” she said. “I think I will continue to exist and tell stories I want to tell, and I will challenge working environments that want to deny who I am and what’s important to me.”

In the face of adversity from Hollywood executives, Guerrero encouraged students to “find a space with dignified rage and love.”

“Find community and like-minded people who love storytelling,” said Guerrero. “Create your own table. There’s no scarcity, and no story is the same.”

Finding Hope in Creative Advocacy

For her advocacy in immigration reform, Guerrero was nominated as an ambassador for citizenship and naturalization by the Obama administration in 2015. She expressed optimism in the potential for progressive gains with Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

“I felt the most hope in grassroots activism and organizations,” said Guerrero. She believed in the power of the people to foster social change with creative advocacy.

ASI Students with Actress Diane Guerrero
Diane Guerrero with ASI students (Courtesy of Associated Students Inc.)

Guerrero volunteered at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national nonprofit group that provides immigration legal training, technical assistance and educational materials to promote immigrant civic engagement.

After Guerrero’s father died two years ago, she questioned if she had a motive to keep on fighting. She channeled her grief into creativity and is filming a documentary about finding home in Colombia. 

In her 2016 memoir, “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided” and her second book, “My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss and Hope,” Guerrero said she felt the need to put her pen on paper to push immigration reform. In recognition of her dedicated work to immigration rights, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Regis College.

Written by: Vanessa Siguenza