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Northwestern University

“Rising Up in the Face of Adversity”

Actor, author and activist Diane Guerrero visits Northwestern to share her family’s story of immigration and deportation

By Daniel P. Smith

In the midst of the heated national debate over immigration, actress, author and activist Diane Guerrero arrived at Northwestern University on Oct. 3 to provide the keynote talk for the University’s Latinx Heritage Month.

Guerrero, best known for her roles in the award-winning Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” and the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” has become one of the nation’s foremost advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. Her 2016 memoir, In the Country We Love, details her life as the citizen-daughter of undocumented immigrants who were deported from the United States.

“It is important that the campus understands the human consequences and suffering of our broken immigration system,” said Frances Aparicio, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese and director of Northwestern’s Latina and Latino Studies Program, which hosted Guerrero’s visit with support from nine other campus offices, departments and programs.

“[Guerrero] suffered the implications of these policies, and her story educates on immigration and deportation in a way that hopefully increases awareness, activism and social justice.”

‘Family, love and resistance’

During a 90-minute program before a near-capacity audience at the Ryan Family Auditorium, Guerrero spoke of the importance of reflection and action in the context of overcoming personal obstacles.

The 31-year-old Guerrero shared her own theories on family, love and resistance, themes that she believes shape many Latinx narratives. She encouraged students to become advocates for the issues they care about.

“We need to look at our stories as part of the American narrative … that we are all rising up in the face of adversity and are no longer standing for the same old narrative,” said Guerrero, who was named a White House Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization in 2015.

That particular message resonated with Jennah Thompson-Vasquez ’19, who is double-majoring in anthropology and Latina and Latino Studies.

“[Guerrero] had the perfect answers when talking about what we can do to address important issues as individuals and as a community,” Thompson-Vasquez said.

Casual and compelling

After her talk, Guerrero moved to the front of the stage, sat down and answered a range of audience questions dealing with issues such as mental illness, collaboration in advocacy and the concept of love.

In one particularly poignant moment, Guerrero discussed how she had feared that she would be blackballed by the entertainment industry if she shared her story and advocated for immigrant rights. Ultimately, she said, she rejected those fears in favor of humanity, truth and empathy.

“It’s so not cool to be quiet about things and to ignore the issues,” she said.

Isabella Soto ’19, who is majoring in Latina and Latino Studies and journalism, said she appreciated Guerrero's authenticity throughout the program.

“What stood out was how reassuring she was, especially as we consider how we can make a difference in the world,” Soto said.

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