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Baby Steps: Diane Guerrero Speaks in Iowa City

Written by Nichole Shaw
Photographed by Olivia Harter

A conversation with and lecture by Diane Guerrero, daughter of Colombian immigrants and successful actor in “Orange Is The New Black” and “Jane the Virgin.” A Boston native, she argues we have a lot to do for immigration reform in actually making a pathway to citizenship while learning to love yourself and others.

Let us take our first steps, for we are still babies in a world with grown up problems, oblivious in how to deal with concepts larger than us.

Diane Guerrero: actress, author, human being.  Photographed by Olivia Harter.

Diane Guerrero: actress, author, human being. Photographed by Olivia Harter.

Chipped baby blue nail polish, bold blue metallic winged eyeliner, some black pumps and a couture black dress walk in to greet me. I am struck by the balance of confidence, vulnerability and imperfection: humanity. She is human in every sense of the word.

“Diane Guerrero. Full stop. Period.”—senior University of Iowa student from the University Lecture Committee.

Commanding but open. Invite yourself in to the immersive black drapes hung on the back of the stage. She glows from the inside out, bristling with hope for unity in this divisive world still.

Lean forward, eyes sparkling, face contorted with longing for a connection, a want to help people: “Sometimes when I listen to myself, I think people will assume that I’m too idealistic. But I don’t care.

I don’t want to see people get hurt anymore,
to see people be afraid to be who they are and just live.”
— A little girl who lost her parents to
a broken system that separated them.

This is what you did to me: “I struggle with answering phone calls with my parents...when you separate a family like that, you

grow apart
When you’re a kid you think that things are
all about you and your parents are the people that they are and
they’re gonna stay like that forever. And that’s
not true... people change and evolve.
I find myself working on that everyday:
repairing the relationship.”
— A lost soul, forbidden from
finding herself.

Peek through the lowered curtains, isolated. Will they see her—see them? Report them as Other? Snatch her childhood away from her. Deportation. What does it mean to be alone? How do they fight for their life, their livelihood, their family, their rights? Where was the yellow brick road to her dreams? I can’t find the path. Neither could she or her parents. There was none. The path to citizenship doesn’t exist. Papeles paint a putrid picture of pain.“I didn’t want to be trapped by my story anymore, (by) continuing to lie to people about it.

And so I decided to expand on it.”
— Warrior of generational trauma.

Exasperated persistence. A constant fight for a better future in a country that turns away the very people that helped build it. “We don’t know what putting human beings first looks like...The reason no one came to my aid is because it’s clear we’re not putting families first. I’d like to see our rhetoric change around immigration and immigrants. I think we start that at school by letting them know about history,

our real history.
Once we know our real history, we can
move forward and...understand why
the world works the way it does.

Danielle Martinez— Associate Director of Academic Support and Retention— leading the lecture and talk with Diane Guerrero for the University of Iowa’s Lecture Committee.  Photographed by Olivia Harter.

Danielle Martinez— Associate Director of Academic Support and Retention— leading the lecture and talk with Diane Guerrero for the University of Iowa’s Lecture Committee. Photographed by Olivia Harter.

Diane Guerrero in the KRUI studio-recorded interview with  Fools  writer Nichole Shaw and other Iowa City journalists.  Photographed by Olivia Harter.

Diane Guerrero in the KRUI studio-recorded interview with Fools writer Nichole Shaw and other Iowa City journalists. Photographed by Olivia Harter.

I’d like to see no family separations. I’d like to see some form of immigration reform, because we haven’t done that before. Let’s update the visa system to see what that does.The biggest misconception about our immigration system is that it works…

otherwise we wouldn’t be putting
people in cages and destroying people’s lives
or telling people that they don’t matter, because
Other immigrants did it the right way.
That’s not true.”
— A survivor of the system that puts
people behind a magic line to empathy
and understanding of immigrants as
real human beings that
doesn’t exist.

Screaming on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway. Blood rushing to your fingertips. Static in your ears. Signs point you don’t belong. Get behind the wall. #DoesUIowaLoveMe? I don’t know. Voices everywhere. How do we cope with the division? “Humanize what the story is. (Stories like) y’know like this scary Other—which really shouldn’t be, because we’ve been living amongst each other for a very long time. I think by showing our stories we begin to understand each other and understand ourselves. It’s so powerful to be

honest about who you are. I think that’s the
first step is liking yourself and accepting yourself,
accepting your history and your culture. And I think
then we can be more comfortable when we share that with others.”
— Human being who
authorized her autonomy to
share her story with Other.

15 years ago. Conversations were nonexistent. Immigration reform who? Where is the community? Children of color subjugated, their voices stolen from them. Unprotected. Where are their rights? Flying blind never works itself out—a nightmare forced to sleepwalk around in. “I have to accept the shoes that I’m wearing...There’s so many different levels of you, and the one thing you want to do is be normal...I know I’ve experienced a lot of trauma. I know I’ve experienced a lot of people doing me or my family or my community harm. I know what that’s like. I don’t want to be one of those people;

I just want to be one of those people who’s doing her best to make it better…
When someone misrepresents you, or misjudges you, or even if you’re
having a conversation and they just plain misunderstand you,
it’s a lot of work to try to help that person
understand, so that you make sure that
you are viewed in the light you want to be
viewed in. And I think that it’s exhausting, but I think
it’s okay because in the end you’ll be so much happier
with yourself, that you presented yourself in the way that
you wanted and not just let things slide.

It’s one day at a time dude, and if you’re trying to make a difference in whatever way you can, just know and remind yourself that it’s a step at a time, it’s life long.

This is a job that you’re going to have for the
rest of your life.”
— An individual in a
larger picture.

“Thank god I could finally get a role to play a prisoner.

Baby steps.”

Speaking to the crowd about her life’s experiences, Guerrero addresses her audience.  Photographed by Olivia Harter.

Speaking to the crowd about her life’s experiences, Guerrero addresses her audience. Photographed by Olivia Harter.