I first met Diane Guerrero on a domestic flight in Colombia in December 2015. I was jetlagged and awkwardly approached her and told her she was great in Orange Is The New Black and Jane The Virgin. The interaction lasted, maybe, 30 seconds, but she was approachable and made a lasting impression.
The same can be said for her new book, ‘In the Country We Love: My Family Divided.'
Like many others, I’d read her Los Angeles Times op-ed on her family’s deportation and seen her campaign with Immigrant Legal Resource Center and United We Dream in calling for an end for deportations.
Guerrero has distinguished herself for using her position as an actress to use her own personal experience to put a face on the issue surrounding immigration.
In her new book, Guerrero convincingly shows that tackling deportations, family separation and the need for immigration reform is a pressing issue.
Guerrero's account of her life and what shaped the work that she does today is raw and transparent; we see and feel for her as the book progresses.
Guerrero was 14 when she was coming home from school and found that her parents, who had been working to get citizenship, had been taken into custody; they were deported and sent back to Colombia.
We follow Guerrero as she worked through the separation while she finished high school and then college, all without her parents. She tells us about her very personal battle with depression. After struggling to find her way, she tells us found her calling in acting.
Her love for her family, her fight to make sense of her parent’s struggle to find a path to citizenship and her very personal struggle as the one left behind takes us on an emotional roller coaster that has us holding on dearly as we root for her — with a Kleenex in hand.
Guerrero effectively weaves her personal experience into the bigger picture of life in the U.S. - with its travails and possibilities.
“My story represents all that should be celebrated about America. Only here could the daughter of immigrants grow up to succeed in the competitive and exciting world of acting… And yet my experience in this country also reflects a reality that’s still tough for me to face.
In a nation that values keeping families together and safeguarding children, I was invisible. Either the immigration officials didn’t see me or they chose to turn their heads. I’ll never know which. But I do know that as Americans, we can do better than that. We can extend greater compassion. And we can push our leaders to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
The book puts voices and faces to the issue of family separation and what it's really like, especially for children. More importantly, Guerrero's keeps us engaged and connected to the unresolved issue of immigration in the U.S. and fosters conversation. In the end, what comes through so clearly in the book is that Guerrero's story is one of survival and perseverance which led to success. In the end, that is a great American story.
Guerrero thinks every child in America, whether their parents are documented or undocumented, should have the same right to achieve the American Dream.
During a visit to New York City, Guerrero talked to us about her book, describing it as part of a long journey as she made sense of her situation and worked to shed the shame she felt surrounding it.
“That chapter of my life, being together with my parents, was cut short,” she said, “I think that the main thing right now is for everyone to understand that this is a human issue, not just a political issue.”
Guerrero was candid with us about her struggle with depression a few years after her parents were deported.
The psychological and emotional toll of family separations is an issue that deserves more attention, said Guerrero.
"All those years of that mentality, of staying quiet, of being fearful, of not telling anybody about what was going on,” she said, “It’s gonna come out in different ways. And depression was one of them.”
We asked her, ‘If you had to pick one thing from your book for people to take away, what would it be?’
“There are real families who experience the same thing as a documented family,” said Guerrero. “They experience love and loss, and they have a lot to lose as well. And there are a lot of citizen children like me who were left behind, and their lives are important too.”
‘In the Country We Love: My Family Divided’ comes out May 3, 2016, in all major book stores and is available on Amazon.