photographer / Jena Cumbo
story / Tiffany Diane Tso
stylist / eLeana Kanellou
hair / Gloria Espinoza
make up / Rosa Fortuna
Fresh-faced actress Diane Guerrero is carving out her unique place in the acting community. She’s on a hit TV show, and she recently met President Barack Obama! Who is she? Guerrero portrays Martiza Ramos, a member of the Latina crew in the prison, in Orange is the New Black and has been quickly garnering roles in films and television since her breakthrough in 2013.
Now a recurring character in Jane The Virgin and with films like Emoticon 😉 under her belt, you might be wondering where this talented young actress with the gorgeous face suddenly arrived from. Guerrero’s path to the big screen has been anything but typical. In an industry where talent is ‘discovered’ at a young age or a result of dynasty and nepotism, she was forced to take a different route.
“I was always interested in performance arts. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do it, but of course I always felt discouraged,” she said. “I didn’t know how that could be a reality for me.” Growing up, Guerrero attended the Boston Arts Academy and was involved in the arts.
However, the OITNB actress took a more practical route after high school. After studying political science and communications in college, she had her sights set on non-profit. She wanted to work with immigration — a subject that hits home for Guerrero. Instead, she studied to be a paralegal and began working in a law office.
“I got a little older and kept seeing my friends reach out for their dreams,” Guerrero told us. “I really wanted to be a part of that.” A child of Colombian immigrants, Guerrero came home one day to find out her parents had been deported along with her brother. Diane was only 14. She was throttled into learning how to to pull herself up by the bootstraps and forge ahead solo, but not without the support of her community.
“I had no direction, absolutely none.” In her early 20s, Guerrero decided to take a basic acting class to see if there was anything in her she could work with and went on to work with one of the three casting houses in Boston. To push herself even further, she began traveling to New York for classes and auditions. She felt like she had a “late start,” deciding to move to NYC to really pursue acting at age 24. Guerrero found an agent who really believed in her, which brings us to today.
It doesn’t surprise us that Guerrero got her start on the Netflix original series. OITNB casted a number of unknown faces along with seasoned stars. The show has garnered mixed reviews for being controversial, covering topics from gender and sexuality to drug abuse and abuse of power. However, one inarguably positive impact the show has made culturally has been its three-dimensional characterization of the female prisoners.
With each character getting their personal histories and dramas illustrated in each episode, we wonder if supporting character Maritza will get her turn at telling her own story. Guerrero couldn’t provide us with an answer.
Luckily, the actress has been able to share her own traumatic past with the world. Guerrero was given the opportunity to pen an op-ed piece for the L.A. Times about her family’s deportation.
“Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me,” she wrote. “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.”
Left without the direction of her parents, she had every chance of ending up like the character she portrays. However, Guerrero created opportunities for herself, rather than waiting for them to be presented to her. She went on to graduate from high school, college and built a career for herself in one of the most cutthroat industries.
While Guerrero said she relates with Maritza, coming from an underprivileged background, she feels like she’s taking the right steps. Hardworking and ambitious, the now 28-year-old actress says she feels like she could survive prison by staying positive and focusing on self-improvement in the isolated environment.
“Because I am such an adaptable person. I’m a person who has always dealt with instability and turmoil, and I’ve always had to kind of adjust. I feel like I would find my way and make the situation better.”
Diane Guerrero has indeed turned her own life around. From the challenge of having her family torn apart at a young age to getting a “late start” in her career, she has proven that she is as resilient as she is talented.
Besides working regularly in television, Guerrero recently finished filming Peter and John — a period piece in which her character is a Cuban Confederate spy. Guerrero also volunteers with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a nonprofit group for the advancement of immigrants’ rights.
The end isn’t anywhere in sight for Diane Guerrero, and we look forward to watching her pave her own path to stardom.
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