Diane Guerrero on the Powerful Link Between Activism and Mental Health

Bibi Deitz

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You might know Diane Guerrero as Maritza Ramos on Orange Is the New Black or Jane’s best friend, Lina, on Jane the VirginBut you might not know Guerrero is a powerful activist for young immigrants — and the issue is close to her heart. At the #BlogHer19 Creator’s Summit, the actress went on the record about the reality she and many other immigrant children have had to face.

“I experienced something really crazy as a kid,” she said. “I experienced my family separting through deportation.” When she was 14 years old, Guerrero came home from school to find her parents had been deported.

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“It was as tragic as it can be,” she said. “I come home from school and my parents are gone, and now I have to fend for myself.” Instead of letting herself become a victim, though, Guerrero spoke about the strength she has found in taking her power back. “I was able to use some tools that my parents left with me, some tools that I never thought were that valuable at the time, but, of course, as I get older and as I put them to use, they mean a little more than I thought,” she said.

Today, though she is a successful actress, Guerrero remains firmly rooted in reality — and wants to never forget where she came from, and continue helping others. “My last name means warrior,” Guerrero said. “I am the daughter of immigrants. It’s not my entire identity, but certainly informs it. I’ve been able to use that truth to really propel me forward in a time where the odds were really against me. And a lot of the odds are against a lot of people who go through separation or the systemic barriers that are in place for a lot of black and brown women.”

Activism has become a huge part of Guerrero’s life. The actress noted that she has struggled with her mental health, and acting and activism have both brought meaning to her life. “I suffer from depression,” she said. “At the time that I decided to be an actor … I was at the brink of maybe never existing ever again.”

But all of that has changed. “Now, acts of service, or this part of my side hustle, help me continue every day, and help with my mental health, and help me just want to be here more and want to work harder.”

Guerrero has let go of some of the pain of her past, and feels more comfortable in her own skin. “I’m in a stage where I’m trying to work on … moving past survival, and living, and owning yourself and your truth and everything that makes you who you are,” she said.

“Just living your life and saying yes to yourself seems impossible … when you’re coming from a place with no family, no money,” the activist said. But the important thing is to just keep trying, no matter what. “All failures are just trying to get to know what fits,” she added.

Guerrero said that asking for help has been vital in her life and her career. “It’s the key,” she said. “Ask for help. What, are you born knowing these things?” And we all need to stick together, and lift each other up. “That’s why we are in this world,” she said. “They try to tell us that we don’t belong together, and they try to tell us that we have to do all the work ourselves. No. We are put in this world to work together.”

At the end of the day, self-love can carry you past anything, Guerrero said. “Love yourself,” she said. “I know it sounds cheesy, but when you love yourself, you take care of yourself … and you can move past anything.”

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