Author, activist and actress Diane Guerrero stopped by Texas Lutheran University Tuesday evening to speak about her family's immigration story, which inspired her memoir and dedication to activism.
In a speaking event led by KSAT's Jessie Degollado, Guerrero spoke on her memoir, "In The Country We Love: My Family Divided," which details her experience coming home from school to discover that her parents, undocumented immigrants, were detained and deported when she was 14 years old. She was able to stay in the U.S. after family friends took her in, and pursue an acting career. Now 31, Guerrero is best known her role as Maritza Ramos on Netflix's Orange Is The New Black
, and has also starred in the CW's Jane the Virgin
and CBS' Superior Donuts
Inside the packed Jackson Auditorium, Degollado asked Guerrero about this experience as well as her thoughts on the country's immigration system.
"We do have a broken immigration system," Guerrero said. "We have a responsibility to fix it."
She said that it's hard to do since the current administration is shutting down conversations about immigration rather than trying to come up with a solution. For her, Guerrero supports citizenship for families already in the U.S. and updating the Visa process as a good start for reform.
"This issue is such a political issue," Guerrero said. "It's not humanized at all, which is why I took it upon myself to share my very personal story."
She believes that the more immigration stories that are shared, the more society can understand how this is a human issue, not a political one. Guerrero said the criminalization of undocumented immigrants comes from misconceptions.
"It's not based on fact," Guerrero said. "It's wrong to demonize an entire community based on fear and falsities."
From her own experience, Guerrero said it's important to talk about the mental health issues for undocumented families.
"That's something we don't often talk about – the mental health issues that come from separating families or living with that fear," Guerrero said.
Although she has a budding career as an actress, Guerrero actually has a degree in political science and communications. She uses that knowledge, along with her passion for social issues, to work as an activist. Guerrero even said that she teams up with fellow Latina actress-activists like Gina Rodriguez (her co-star on Jane the Virgin
) and America Ferrera (star of Real Women Have Curves
, which she said was one of the first films she saw starring a Latina).
"We meet together on certain Sundays as a call-to-action for Latinas in the industry," Guerrero said.
While Guerrero finds strength in these women, she said it's still tough to be a Latina in Hollywood.
"I knew from a very young age that weren't a lot of people like me on television," Guerrero said. "I certainly was not considered the girl next door – I still am not."
Although she takes pride in her Latina identity, Guerrero said having to represent that diversity role means catering to stereotypes (including speaking with an accent) or having that racial identity be the only depth to a character. While she's grateful for her roles and auditions, she said she seeks out multi-dimensional roles whose characters are more than their race.
"To always be represented as [Latina] is not very diverse storytelling," Guerrero said. "People aren't going to get confused because I'm speaking without an accent. That's lazy."
Despite the challenges in Hollywood, she will remain true to her passion and continue to use her platform to call for change.
"When we come from a place of love and empathy, we can achieve many things," Guerrero said. "That's only going to happen when we look to our neighbors, we look to each other and unite for help." Get our top picks for the best events in San Antonio every Thursday morning. Sign up for our Events Newsletter.