When you read the first line in the book cover for Diane Guerrero's memoir, it's hard not to get goosebumps. "The actress was just fourteen years old on the day her parents were detained and deported while she was at school.”
Notably known for her role as Maritza on Orange Is the New Black, Guerrero first wrote about that traumatic day in a column for LA Times in November 2014. After the article was published, she noticed that more and more people were coming forth with their own immigration stories. It was the op-ed that prompted her to delve deeper into her childhood for her memoir, In the Country We Love.
"It was just so timely with everything that’s going on in our country and politics,” says the 29-year-old Boston native on the phone with New Times. "It just seemed fitting." She jokes that initially she had planned to pen a memoir when she was in her 60’s.
Yet, at her age, she has gone through things that most people will never undergo in their lifetimes. Thanks to family friends who took her in, Guerrero was able to focus on her goals and achieve great things out of life. But, “it was pretty tough,” she says of her childhood growing up in Massachusetts without her parents. “I suffered a bit of trauma, as you would, but I had goals and dreams that I stuck with even though it was a bumpy road.
“It was lonely and full of uncertainty and there were many times when I myself was in danger… I think that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now [with the book], because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.”
Images from Guerrero's childhood.
Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company
Despite not having her parents physically with her, she says she has always had their love and support. Her mom and dad are still living in Colombia, though Guerrero visits them often. It remains a dream of hers to reunite her family one day. “When a family is torn apart and told they can’t visit their friends and family, it’s hard on the mind. It’s hard on the heart,” says the actress somberly.
One of the biggest parts in In the Country We Love — aside from her parents being taken away — is when she talks about her involvement in the arts. It was an outlet where she could channel her emotions in a positive way, she says. For the Colombian-American, acting is a way of commenting on social issues and telling stories that make her empathetic. “It allowed me to find my place in the world… just living is not as easy as it seems. Especially without a family to support you.”
Ultimately, Guerrero wants her story to both humanize the immigration issue, and inspire others to become more active in their communities. The best way she could think of to be a part of the conversation was by sharing her own experiences. “This issue is so politicized and sometimes we forget the people who are being affected.”
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So far, the response has been positive and she herself is seeing the change. People around her are better comprehending immigration rights and wanting to get involved. “I just want people to come to an understanding about this issue and know that when you separate a family there are huge repercussions — not just for the people being deported but also the citizen children left behind.”
Miami is the third stop on her six city book tour. Although the actress has vacationed in the city many times, she does expect this visit to be slightly different. “It’ll be interesting because what I experience a lot with Miami is the Cuban culture, and you know Cubans have a very different relationship with immigration.”
Diane Guerrero: In the Country We Love
Thursday, May 5, at 8 p.m. at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Event is free to attend and Guerrero's memoir will be available for purchase. Visit booksandbooks.com.