Actress shares family’s immigration story


“I struggle with not having my family with me every day,” says Diane Guerrero. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

For many in the UIC community, Diane Guerrero’s immigration speech came at a crucial time.

After a divisive election, Guerrero spoke candidly about what a Donald Trump presidency could mean for undocumented people living in the U.S.

“I don’t know that everything’s going to be fine, but I know that I’m going to keep working,” Guerrero, who advocates for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Mi Familia Vota, said to students and staff Monday night. “I hope you do, too.”

It’s an issue that hits home for the 30-year-old actress, who stars as Maritza Ramos on the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black.” As a teen, Guerrero witnessed her undocumented parents be deported back to Colombia. She was able to stay because of birthright citizenship, but had to live at friends’ houses in Boston.

“I struggle with not having my family with me every day,” Guerrero said onstage at the UIC Forum. “Immigration laws aren’t conducive for any reunification of families.”

Her speech, part of the “An Evening with” series sponsored by the Student Activities Board, was originally set up in a much different way. Before coming to Chicago, Guerrero had prepared with a Hillary Clinton “victory in mind.” That drastically changed after the Nov. 8 election.

“I go, ‘What am I going to say to these students?’” Guerrero told UIC News backstage. “I ended up changing my speech, but I think while writing it, it really helped me process this time, too.

students in the audience smiling

Guerrero’s speech also included moments of levity. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

“Being here has certainly helped me process and motivated me more than ever to keep on going, to keep on fighting for what I believe in.”

Her updated version was centered on sharing her family’s tragic story, delving deeply into comprehensive reform and calling upon students to speak up against injustices facing immigrants.

Although her message was thoughtful and serious, she interjected many moments of levity. The actress told self-deprecating jokes about her antiquated lingo and dance moves, which had students uproariously laughing.

Nothing was off limits for Guerrero, who has found honesty to be a vital aspect when sharing her story.

“When I first started this, I just wanted to share my story and relate to others,” Guerrero said backstage. “I would find it really hard to relate to others because I wasn’t very honest with myself or others about my history with my family and how much the immigration system affected me.

“So I sought out to sort of connect with people, and what I found was that I’ve been able to speak to a lot of people and connect with other folks and come together to really have an open dialogue about this issue that I care so much about, which is the issue of separation of families in this country.”

After the event, Guerrero talked with UIC students who were granted VIP access.

Kimmy Camacho, a freshman in photography, excitedly waited in line to meet Guerrero and surprise her with a handmade bracelet that read: “No one is illegal.”

“I just wanted to show her that she’s not alone,” she said.

Guerrero thanked her, put it on, then snapped a picture.

Other students in attendance left with a fuller understanding of immigration struggles and issues facing Americans.

“Being a woman of color also, it’s important that we voice our opinions. People have realized that you can’t just sit back,” event lead Jyotsna Bitra said. “Whatever you believe in, whatever values you have, whatever opinions you have, you have to be heard.”

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