She plays a tough cookie on Orange Is the New Black, but Diane Guerrero got vulnerable while appearing on CNN Monday, Nov. 17. The actress, who plays Maritza Ramos on the Netflix series, penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times this past weekend, about losing her parents at age 14, when they were deported.
“I said in my letter, I would always have this feeling — I was always scared that my parents were going to be gone,” Guerrero, 28, recalled. “They would remind me every day. I knew my dad had like this whole system. ‘Here’s where I hide this in case anything happens. And, you know, don’t be scared and know that you’re going to be okay and that we love you very much and that we wish that this situation was different for us, but this is our reality.’ So, yes, that day I had this feeling.”
The actress said she had called her parents “a million times” on her way home from school that day, which she thinks about often. “I got home and their cars were there and dinner was started and the lights were on,” Guerrero recalled. “But I couldn’t find them. So, yes, it was really hard. That was really hard. And then the neighbors came in and…. They were just like, ‘I’m so sorry but your parents were taken away.’”
Scared and all alone, Guerrero said she “broke down” immediately and tried to think of ways to preserve herself. “I remember I hid under the bed because I was afraid that somebody was going to come for me,” the actress recalled. “I don’t know who that someone was, but I was just so scared. You know, it’s like, what do you — what do you do? And then I’m so scared for them, like what they’re going through, you know. My parents are going to jail, and for what? You know, I didn’t consider them criminals.”
Several hours later, she finally received a call from her father who said that he was detained. Then she received a call from her mother, who said the same. “They were separated,” Guerrero recalled.
After her parents were deported back to Colombia along with her brother Eddie, the star went through high school and college on her own. In her op-ed, Guerrero wrote about the fact that no government official or agency reached out to her to make sure she was okay. “Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me,” wrote the actress. “No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.”
By relying on the kindness of strangers, Guerrero achieved success. Yet, the memory of losing her parents and the reality of achieving her goals in life without her family by her side left a lasting impact. “And, though I was surrounded by people who cared about me, part of me ached with every accomplishment, because my parents weren’t there to share my joy,” she wrote in her op-ed.
Guerrero added on Monday to CNN that she still sees her parents, only once a year when she visits Colombia. “It’s tough, you know,” she said. “We’ve been separated for so long. I feel like sometimes we don’t know each other and that’s difficult because I’ve grown up without them and there’s things about them that are new that I don’t recognize and it just — it hurts.” Breaking down on the show, she added: “I love them so much and I just — I just hate that they have gone through this. And I know I’ve been by myself, but I feel like they have lived a very lonely existence themselves. I’m sorry.”
In her op-ed Guerrero wanted to drive home the fact that her story was common. “Every day, children who are U.S. citizens are separated from their families as a result of immigration policies that need fixing,” she wrote. “I consider myself lucky because things turned out better for me than for most, including some of my own family members. When my brother was deported, his daughter was just a toddler. She still had her mother, but in a single-parent household, she faced a lot of challenges. My niece made the wrong friends and bad choices. Today, she is serving time in jail, living the reality that I act out on-screen. I don’t believe her life would have turned out this way if her father and my parents had been here to guide and support her.”