Diane Guerrero on How 'OITNB' Role Has Shaped Creative Decisions

Diane Guerrero - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of #BlogHer

"That has opened my eyes to want to produce, to write, to open doors for brothers and sisters who want to tell passionate stories about their communities and take up space," the actress said at the BlogHer19 Creators Summit.

It’s been almost two months since the final season of Orange Is the New Black hit Netflix, but the situation at the United States/Mexico border and the U.S.' immigration policy continue to play on the minds of the show’s actresses. For Diane Guerrero, whose character Maritza Ramos had a powerful immigration storyline during the final season, it’s become an impetus to do more for the community around her.

“My name means warrior, so it’s thanks to my mom and dad that I’m able to do what I do,” Guerrero told the audience at SHE Media’s BlogHer 19 Creators Summit on Thursday. "I am the daughter of immigrants. That is important because it informs my identity. I used that truth to really propel me forward when the odds were really against me, as they are for people who go through family separation." She says she wants others to know they can get through any tough situations they may be in, just as she has in the past.

Guerrero’s story is well-known now — how she returned home from school one day as a 14-year-old to find that her parents had been deported — thanks to her 2016 memoir, In the Country We Love, and the work she’s done around the immigration crisis at the border. But it’s the character she took on in 2013 in Orange Is the New Black that helped her most convey the impact of the struggles faced by immigrants.

“I came out swinging, when I got to be in Orange Is the New Black as my first gig,” she said. "To be introduced into this Hollywood world with that — Orange was so the opposite of what that world is. I learned good manners, some good behavior when it came to storytelling — that feeling and urge and want to be inclusive — it stemmed from there. The comfort it gave me to share my own story, or to put myself in some and to not be ashamed of myself and where I come from.”

She says Orange has continued to play a part in helping guide the decisions she makes about the roles she takes on. I want to lead with that. "I want to keep working on projects I love,” she says, "like Jane the Virgin. That was a beautiful moment in my career. A mostly Latinx cast, showing the world, 'Hey, we are a regular cast, we are a regular family too, we care about the same things that you do, too.’"

She's also particularly proud of her role in Doom Patrol, she said, before joking, "that no one has seen I’m sure because it’s DC Universe and nobody has a subscription,” she joked. "I play a badass lady who has been abused as a child, so suffers from trauma, and now has 64 different personalities, along with 64 different characters to match, and there I get to dive into the human psyche and trying to understand mental health, which also applies to me.”

“I can’t really go back to being Gangster’s Wife Number 2. I can’t,” she said, urging agencies to stop sending those characters to her. “That all has opened my eyes to want to produce, to write, to open doors for brothers and sisters who want to tell passionate stories about their communities and take up space,” said Guerrero. She mentioned wanting to work in the documentary genre and do unscripted work. “I wrote a book, but I’m not a writer, so it’s just a matter of not limiting myself. And it’s healed me in ways I never thought it could,” she added, referring to her struggle with depression.

Guerrero went on to award Justice for Migrant Women's founder and president Mónica Ramírez, who works to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity, with SHE Media’s Voices of the Year award as a changemaker. “These awful things keep happening over and over again, every time we look at the news,” said Guerrero.

“From the El Paso shooting to the 700 families that were detained from the factory in Mississippi — when these things happen, I am paralyzed. I don’t know how to be of service, how I can help those families who have lost relatives, how do I talk to those kids who are left without their parents. Since I have met Monica, I call her and she shows me what I can do. My name may mean 'warrior' but she is a warrior, a literal superhero. She can literally see what is going on and at least try to make a plan of action. We need people like Monica in times of crisis.”

Guerrero’s Orange co-star Alysia Reiner, who played what she calls “the Queen of ICE” on the series, also handed out an award at the summit, to Tara Greer, for her work with Action Potluck. The coalition of grassroots activists works to help families separated or needing asylum.

Reiner, who played Natalie “Fig” Figueroa, the warden of an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainment facility, continues to work with a number of groups, including Families Belong Together and Kids in Need of Defense, and sing with protest group the Resistance Revival Chorus.

"My friends and family and I, we’ve helped a mom with five kids, who is fleeing horrific violence. People don’t leave their home unless they’re leaving the mouth of a shark,” she told the audience. “Helping our family has been a huge gift in my life — finding them an affordable apartment, getting them all medical care. Our group is able to be the change in a hands-on way. My friends and family and I are now caring for a family who were strangers but they are now our friends too. This is thanks to Tara’s inspiration, who, after the 2016 election, wanted to do something, and that led to the foundation of Action Potluck/Sanctuary Neighborhoods. Tara showed me personally how to help, and I’ll be forever grateful.”