Actress and advocate Diane Guerrero canvasses and gets candid in Philadelphia
Upon peering into a small office in the back of Equality Pennsylvania’s headquarters, an organization that has been devoted to the rights and the policies that maintain the dignity and respect of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians since 1996, I took my first glance at the woman that I would be momentarily interviewing. Levana Leyendecker and David Scholnick shuffled me into the office, where Diane Guerrero was sipping on a Starbucks iced-coffee dressed in quintessential “laid-back, comfy, whatever” garb and chatting away with those who work with her and those who were assigned to brief her on the timeline of the day. Perhaps- I’ll admit -I was a bit starstruck and was determined to keep my composure to feign cool, calm, and collected professionalism, and my gaze lingered longer than intended on Diane as I met the other persons in the room.
“Hey, Diane, this is Mónica from AL DÍA, and shes interviewing you in about five minutes.”
Her eyes went wide as she took an exaggerated sip. “Oh my God. WAIT WHAT? I’m getting interviewed?! I was like… Oh man, why is she looking at me like that? Who, me? Why does she want to interview me?” and laughed, sincerely and sincerely awkwardly.
It was apparent, from that moment onwards, that my initial starstruck sensation had no place there, for Diane was so human in her startled reaction, that her celebrity was nothing to be wary of.
The name Diane Guerrero may not ring many bells or bring forth a familiar face, as the actress has only been “in the industry” for a handful of years, but her personas of Lina on Jane The Virgin and Maritza Ramos on Orange Is The New Black are so memorable and easily-quoted, that it’s surprising to see the person behind those characters not receive all of the recognition she is deserving of.
Especially because, the woman with the hysterical lines and the intensely perfect inmate eyeliner, is so much more than a beautiful actress. She is an author, an advocate, and even a Presidential Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization.
But, AL DÍA is not a space to dish out compliments, they must be earned, and in order to do so, we must present you with the full and exclusive-scoop on Diane Guerrero, and the significance of her presence in Philadelphia with Equality Pennsylvania:
Do I look okay, if you’re going to photograph? I didn’t put on too much makeup or anything… See, I don’t know why I did this… But last night, I decided to look at the reviews for the first time of my book. And like, they were really mean. I don’t even know how I have a self-esteem after that. They just really didn’t like my millennial slang and they found it cheesy, but like, it’s not my fault that I talk in #hashtags. I just wanted to be relatable!
Those are the first full words that Diane tells me, even before I begin the official interview. I laugh and tell her that she looks fine (obviously), and after I told her that AL DÍA is bold and brash, and probably not like certain magazines or platforms that have interviewed her previously, she said: “Good, because I’m candid A.F. I don’t hold back. Write that down!”
So, Diane, first off: Why are you here [in Philadelphia], and what do you hope to accomplish with Equality PA today?
I’m an advocate, I’m an activist… I want to do so much. I’m always like, I can do so much more. The part that has been lacking is the “boots on the ground” type thing. And, I hope to … Get gritty, get dirty, and not be so glamorous. Like a real activist. Like this great organization, which I admire so much. We’re lucky to have people like this who care, who are participating. I’m trying to get people to look at organizations like this, and people like this, and kids like this, and encourage them to also be like “I want to be like them,” because they’re doing something right. I want to be here supporting them in any way I can, and getting a kind of a taste for it. So that, next time when we get together, this will be easy peasy, no need to prep me.
Where you ever hesitant to use this story, this narrative of immigration, of your own family’s immigration in your book [In The Country We Love: My Family Divided]? Because, you’ve only been active since about 2011, and as an actress, you’re still a fresh face, really:
It’s a little tough, I just have to constantly remind myself why this work is important to me, and what getting involved has done to enrich my life. I’m on two shows, and I’m working towards more work (acting wise), but it was such an important time to participate. If I was going to participate at any time, this was the time for it. Given my personal experience, and my personal story, it just seemed appropriate. I always think, how do people get involved initially? Well, they have to feel connected, or get connected to something. I’ve always cared about a lot of things, not just immigration reform, but, you know… Human rights issues.
On your Instagram you call yourself an “Intersectional Feminist,” so, where and how do you see that feminism intersect? In which particular issues?
Well I just think that all issues are my issues, too, right? #BlackLivesMatter issues are my issues, LGBTQ issues are my issues… And my issues are their issues, right? That’s why I love that I’m working with Equality PA today because they have proven themselves, time and time again, that they are intersectional feminists as well. They care about so many things, not just the woes of the LGBTQ community, and they understand that their work encompasses so much more, that we’re all in this together. I couldn’t possibly be in favor of immigration reform, or women’s issues, or women’s equality if I didn’t care about all this other stuff too.
How did your parents, your family, feel about this book? And about this work you’re doing?
They love it, they love it, they think that what I’m doing is really, really, cool. I mean part of the reason why they think what I am doing is really cool is because I’m learning so much about myself.
I always wanted to do work like this. I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be like one of those cool women in the street wearing a bra, but still sort of like, metaphorically burning my bra. You know what I’m saying?
I always wanted to be one of those women that did something, or those people that did something, and cared about something, and because I cared so much about stuff… At the time, I had all these opinions, I had things to say, but I felt that I was never confident enough or smart enough to say them, or be part of the conversation. And then, little by little, I kind of forced myself to have this feigned confidence because I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to do it so bad, and you have to be confident, but I wasn’t, so I just pushed myself into it… Knowing very well that I was scared and not confident at all, but with this [acting], I started meeting people that were getting involved with doing things that I really admired, and I thought, “okay this is kind of the same situation, I do not feel very confident about these issues or very smart, but I want to know what I can do, how I can help, so I’m going to push myself into it and see where it goes.
Have you gotten more confident now that you’re a Presidential Ambassador?
I mean, hah, it’s nothing, it basically means nothing. She dramatically flaunts her hair, and laughs incredulously. No, no, it’s cool to be recognized, it’s cool to just join forces with people. That’s what being an ambassador means. Now, you’re working with other folk, and people know what you’re doing, and now they can give you a seat at the table to share your thoughts on the issue, and see where you’re helping and where your strengths are.
Hey, wait, did I answer the question about my parents? They’re like super happy that I’m doing stuff, they always believed in me, and now they’re happy that I’m not just… They always knew that I was just, getting in everyone’s face with my little baton, always saying what was wrong with the world. But now they like that part of me, and especially when reading my book, where I look deep inside myself and realize how much of a little witch I was.
Why are you rooting for Hillary Clinton? Be specific: Which issues or policies of hers have stood out to you?
I mean, aaaaahhhh, I was really feeling the Bern, was reaaaaally feeling that Bernie, but I honestly think she’s the most qualified. I really do. She’s cared about a lot of issues since she got in the game, she’s got a strong backbone, she’s a strong woman. I think that’s what we need, I think that’s what I want future little girls- my future little girl - to see that there’s someone like me that I can connect to and say, this person is doing something that people thought was impossible. That people said NO to for so many years. And she’s breaking down these walls. I find that incredibly empowering. I think she cares about a lot of stuff that I care about. Healthcare, about families… I’d like to see, this time around (that I think we the people didn’t do with Obama was, you know, hold his back)… Now, we need to hold whoever we elect in office accountable, and that means we have to support them, we have to support them by voting, we have to support them by electing a Congress that is going to be in line with the issues we care about, get people that are going to fight for us and are in line with the president that we elect.
And I’m hoping that it’s Hillary Clinton, because she’s a cool chick and she WEARS the pants. OKAY?! AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO WEAR THE PANTS WITH HER, and it’s going to be great, Diane says with a jokingly triumphant tone.
We just have to make sure that we’re behind her 100%. And, as far as immigration, so many times we see that immigration issues fall back, and we just can’t let that happen. That’s kind of what I’m pushing for, and if we’re handling immigration, then we’re handling other things as well, but we can’t let people forget about immigration.
What would you want other children, or other young folks to know in that very same position you were in, when you were fourteen, and you came to an empty home and realized that your family had been deported back to Colombia. What would you want these immigrant youths to know? What advice would you impart on them if you could?
Not to… Not to blame themselves, or their parents, or think that they’re less valuable because this happened to them. I think that we are living in very complicated times when we haven’t yet found any solutions that are inclusive, or that are working for everybody, but we should make them feel strong. And we should encourage them to be part of the solution. I think that it took me a while to understand that. I was alone in this issue, in this experience, and that’s why for a long time- and I explain that in my book -I was so incredibly sad and misguided, and sometimes I didn’t find any doors to open or any air… I couldn’t breathe, sometimes… But, now hopefully with stories like mine, they can see that they’re not alone, and that this is something that is affecting all of us, and that there are people that want to make change, and want to help, and all they have to do is reach out. I know I’ll always be here, I know my story is plastered on the internet forever, so they can use me as an example. I struggled a lot, but I found my way, and they can too. It’s not impossible. I’ve reached so many different things in my life that I never thought possible. I really thought that it was over for me, but it only took a little bit of imagination and people around me who cared, so all you have to do is realize that they’re there, and that you’re going to be okay.
After our interview, Diane Guerrero giddily went on to rile-up and gush to Equality PA’s volunteer canvassers, taking numerous selfies with patience, and making sure that each person that came out there that morning to make a difference in the crucial precincts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County would feel like their work was valuable. Before all of the canvassers were briefed and prepped (including Diane) with safety regulations and procedures, we were invited to all take-part in an ice-breaker that asked for your name, your gender pronouns, and your superhero. When it was Diane’s turn, she hesitated on the pronouns question (it was her first time encountering it), but when it came to the superhero category, she innately named her advisor Gebe Martinez, who was beside her in the circle. The feeling was mutual.
Others in the circle named Harvey Milk, Wolverine, Xena Warrior Princess, Beyonce, their parents, their abuelas, but the hero of the day was unmistakably Diane Guerrero, who provided these canvassers not only with enthusiasm, who not only brought to the media a level of attention and accolade that the commendable Equality Pennsylvania has been worthy of for over twenty years, but also who bared her intersectional feminism with pride and with candor, through a willingness to get her boots to the ground and burn her (metaphorical) bra in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.