On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by Diane Guerrero, the Colombian actress who plays Maritza Ramos in “Orange Is the New Black.” It tells the story of how Guerrero lost her parents to deportation when she was barely 14, starting with her worst fears growing up:
Throughout my childhood I watched my parents try to become legal but to no avail. They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped. That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported. If I didn’t see anyone when I walked in the door after school, I panicked.
Her story is heartbreaking, particularly when we find out that Guerrero’s nightmares are realized. She comes home from school to an empty house—to a place where dinner had been served but hadn’t been finished. The event gives a spin to Guerrero’s life and sense of security, even after being taken in by family friends:
I was always insecure about being a nuisance and losing my invitation to stay. I worked a variety of jobs in retail and at coffee shops all through high school. 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….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.”
Guerrero’s letter comes at a crucial time in US politics, as president Obama is expected to announce changes to the immigration enforcement system that would offer legal documents (not citizenship) to many. Her story is a wake up call for those who support stringent deportation policies without thinking about the millions of children who get placed in foster care as a consequence. No child should be forced to live in these conditions if she has loving parents who would like to be able to care for her.
—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Deputy Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.