By Sophie Cannon, news correspondent
Actress and activist Diane Guerrero shared her immigration story at Northeastern’s Blackman auditorium on Friday, Oct. 7. Guerrero, who grew up in Boston, said that when she was 14 years old, her Colombian parents and brother were deported, forcing her to grow up quickly and without the support of her immediate family.
“I realized that my story is actually one of the most American out there and I am part of the American narrative,” Guerrero said. “I don’t want people talking about immigrants as a dirty word; we need to talk about race openly and the minute I decided to be truthful and honest, doors started opening for me.”
Guerrero is best known for her work on the television series “Jane the Virgin” and the Netflix Original series “Orange is the New Black.” She is also a prominent figure in the fight for immigration reform and immigrant rights and is a White House ambassador for citizenship and naturalization.
“It was really tough [for my parents],” Guerrero said. “My parents left Colombia because there was no money. They left Colombia because it was dangerous. They left Colombia because there were little prospects for them. And so going back to a place that they basically fled was really really tough.”
A common trend woven into the speech was voting and political power in the upcoming election.
“We need to vote and use our political muscles,” Guerrero said. “I will not tell you who to vote for, but we’d like to see you round up 11 million immigrants and see how you do! We have to push back, not just to protect diversity but to embrace it.”
Guerrero also addressed the issues surrounding immigrantion in the United States today. She spoke of the far-too-many instances of families being separated and never speaking out due to fear.
Guerrero also talked about the lasting effects that her parents’ deportation had on her mental health, a topic that is unfortunately under-addressed and more so in neighborhoods of color, she said.
“There are a lot of mental health issues in the Latino communities that go unaddressed,” Guerrero said. “They make you think therapy is a luxury and it’s not. It’s a necessity. We’re not victims, but a community of survivors.”
Guerrero found that having to keep her parents’ status a secret for 14 years, followed by the shame that came with their deportation, left her with severe anxiety.
“I discovered that I had serious mental health issues. College is so dope for that,” Guerrero said. “Something happens to us and we just can’t run away.”
Despite the tough subject matter, Guerrero kept the speech light with funny side stories and relatable comments throughout, reminding the audience to laugh every once in awhile.
“Guerrero was extremely down to earth and made a very serious subject more engaging and fun to talk about,” freshman graphic design major Alyssa Schifano said.
To show just how close to home this issue is to Boston and the Northeastern University community, Northeastern freshman Valeria Do Vale also took the stage to tell her story of immigration, struggles and successes.
“I crossed the border with my family at age seven. I looked ahead and all I saw were heat waves and sand, but looking up at the sky, I saw opportunity,” Do Vale said.
Do Vale spoke of the many organizations that helped get her to the podium at Blackman that evening.
“I was able to apply for Defend Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) [and receive] a temporary social security number and a work permit,” Do Vale said. “This doesn’t fix my status. DACA can be taken away at any moment, but it certainly helps.”
Do Vale has lived in Boston since immigrating to the United States from Brazil. In her speech, she emphasized that stories like hers are not uncommon.
“What hasn’t changed is the life threatening circumstances that undocumented immigrants face today,” Do Vale said. “Although we do not have papers, we are people who are frequently just trying to stay alive, and rarely get to dream of opportunity.”
Both women urged the audience to take the issues of immigration seriously and were met with huge applause and snapping from the audience.
Guerrero’s visit was part of tour to promote her new book, “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided.”
“Coming away from the event, I have a new understanding of Latin American culture and appreciation for the struggles immigrants face in our country today,” Schifano said.
Photo by Jon Polen