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Diane Guerrero is back in her role as inmate Maritza Ramos. In the new season, the feisty, silly, and quick-witted “Colombian Barbie” is enjoying her freedom after getting released from jail. Maritza goes out to a club and hooks up with an NBA player who offers to fly her out to Los Angeles to visit him. Instead, she parties with a friend. Caught with no ID, she gets hauled backed to Litchfield Penitentiary, but this time as an undocumented detainee.
The story-line is one that will hit hard with viewers who have been witnessing Donald Trump’s remaking of the nation’s immigration system,central theme of his presidency that will continue through-ought his term. OITNB tackles the issues surrounding immigration from raids to the treatment of detainees in detention, family separations, and mistaken identity.
“I couldn’t think of a better platform for [discussing immigration issues],” said Guerrero, at the premiere of the seventh season. “Orange is the New Black is about the prison system and how it affects all of us and how it affects women and how it affects women of color, in particular. I would be so surprised if Orange did not tackle this issue. We are telling different stories, and I am so glad that I am a part of that.”
By the middle of the series, viewers learn Maritza is in fact born in Colombia and see her deported back to a country she doesn’t know. Guerrero herself is one of many US citizens who have personally experienced the painful truth that is our immigration system. Guerrero’s parents and older brother were deported when she was 14. “This is something that we are all living,” she explained. “I would hope that, although not everyone has not experienced family separation, that we are at least a little more aware of what’s going on. I know that I am not the only one living and seeing the images of children in cages and overpopulated cages.”
Guerrero was the only member of her immediate family with U.S. citizenship living in Boston, while her family was sent back to Colombia after unsuccessfully pursuing an adjustment of their legal status. Friends and neighbors took her in. “I hope that people watching this can just put themselves in that situation for a second and understand that this is happening in our country and this is very real, It affects a lot people and will not go away,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero, an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, said it’s trauma for generations to come. “I know it because I’ve lived it. I really don’t have to dive too deeply to know what this is like. I know what it is like personally although it happened [over] 15 years ago, but I also know that I see it, I see the images every day.”
How was she able to survive such a profoundly painful experience? Guerrero confidently said, “I’m brave, baby. But we are not all built that way. My community has helped a lot and being a part of this community has been super helpful. The reason I came out with this story and was honest about my life was I was hugely inspired by our show runner, by the women that I work with, their incredible stories and their advocacy and activism.”
Guerrero, who has volunteered with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), a nonprofit organization providing technical assistance to immigration law practitioners and community-based organizations, provided words of encouragement particularly for the children of undocumented. “You are not alone. I know I felt alone for a very long time, but once you realize that you are not, you can take a real hold of your life,” she said. “Reach out to people who are going through this. They belong here just like I belonged here. You belong here and we all belong here. Hopefully, we will see some changes soon. That will require a huge part in the public and how we vote. And just a little more consideration in who goes in office from the local level up.”
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