Entertainment

Inspired By Her Role As Blanca On ‘Orange Is The New Black,’ Laura Gómez Uses Her Instagram to Share Immigrant Stories

Season 7 of “Orange Is The New Black” saw the ladies of Spanish Harlem portray the real-life struggles of detained immigrants. One such migrant story was the one following Blanca, a woman who is wrongfully imprisoned and whose bad legal advice causes her to her imprisoned by ICE. Laura Gómez, the actress who portrayed Blanca in the series, played the part with a fierce authenticity. 

Though the role started as a smart part, Blanca’s story evolved into one of the most captivating of Season 7.  

However, we weren’t the only ones moved by Blanca’s story. Gómez herself was deeply touched by Blanca’s ICE detention storyline. 

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It was Summer time when I received the notification for a small -possible recurring role- in a “web series” by #JenjiKohan on a new revolutionary online platform called @netflix. The character description read something like #BlancaFlores: crazy Dominican woman in bathroom. She talks to the devil on the phone.” @jen_euston was the CD. I felt the audition went well, but Jen said I might be too pretty for the role. “I have a Picasso side,” I jokingly replied, but left convinced that once again I probably wouldn’t get the part. I had recently quit my job and was taking filmmaking courses so I got busy directing my first short film. Then about two days later I got the call, never imagining that a show created by a woman, bringing relevant if controversial topics about the prison system to the table, with such unconventional & diverse cast would help put #Netflix on the map, changing the concept of streaming service and how we watch television forever. Tonight is the Premiere of our last season and we have embraced that fact saying goodbye to a unique time in our lives. #BlancaFlores taught me never to judge a book by its cover, and reminded me, like Stanislavsky said, that there are no small roles! #endofanera #newbeginnings 🍊Cuando audicioné para el rol de Blanca Flores en una nueva “serie-web” creada por #JenjiKohan, la directora de casting me dijo que tal vez era muy bonita para el rol. Le dije que tengo un lado Picasso y nos reímos, pero me fui convencida de que una vez más sería rechazada. En ese tiempo había renunciado a mi trabajo asi que me enfoqué en mis clases de cine, y en dirigir mi primer corto. Dos días después recibí la llamada de que había sido seleccionada para el personaje. El resto es historia. Nunca imaginamos que un show creado por una mujer sobre temas de reforma carcelaria, con un elenco tan poco convencional ayudaría a poner a #Netflix en el mapa, cambiando el formato TV, ni que representaría tanto cambio en nuestras vidas y la de nuestra audiencia. Hoy que es la Premiere de la última temporada, y reflexionando sobre este personaje, me percato y recuerdo que las apariencias engañan y como bien dice Stanislavsky, que no hay roles pequeños.

A post shared by Laura Gómez (@mslauragomez) on

The “Orange Is The New Black” star shared with Page Six in a recent interview how the series has impacted her life. According to Gómez, since the end of Season 6 — when Blanca was shown being removed from the prison and entering ICE lockup — fans of the series have reached out to the actress with their concerns for her character. This caused Gómez to reflect on how she was able to uplift migrants and their stories. 

“I feel very grateful to been part of the journey and the storytelling of what it meant for Blanca to go into a detention center, and what it means politically right now, in terms of where we’re living in society,” Gómez told Page Six. “It felt urgent and important because of the immense response that I got…I started to get emotional about the responses I was getting.”

The reactions Gómez got to the ICE storyline made her reflect on the very real stories of actual immigrants and the difficulty they’re currently going through because of our political atmosphere. 

Netflix

Due to this response, Gómez wanted to use her platform as a popular actress to shine a light on these real immigrant stories. 

“I felt compelled and inspired to start this series, it actually came from my friends,” the actress explained. “A friend of mine had a tee shirt that said ‘Immigrants: we get the job done.’ I took a photo, and I felt compelled to talk a little bit about her. I felt like, wow, this is a person who’s an immigrant, who is doing an amazing job and is having a very positive impact in American society and that’s how it started.”

From that first picture, Gómez began a series of Instagram posts called “Immigrant Stories by Laura Gómez” — a weekly series that explores immigrant life.

  Instagram / @mslauragomez

In the first installment of the series, Gómez featured her friend Anabelle Soto. A photographer who is responsible for many of Gómez’s gorgeous portraits, Soto is an immigrant making a positive impact on her community and — according to the “OITNB” actress — is “an immigrant superhero.”

Since the first post, Gómez has featured an immigrant’s story every Thursday on her Instagram account.

 Instagram / @mslauragomez

While all posts show how the migrants use their talents and know-how to improve their communities, some include personal anecdotes that show the personal impact these friends, family members, and neighbors can have on our lives. This post features Adam Gagan, a former neighbor of Gómez’s who helped her with her physical limitations following her first knee surgery. He would haul her groceries and packages up to her 4th-floor walk-up while the star recovered. That’s what we call kindness and we should see more of it in our world. 

This post shared the story of one of Gómez’s fellow Latina actresses.

Instagram / @mslauragomez

A Cuban-American actress, Maggie Bofill met Gómez while they were both during theater in New York. She’s a first generation citizen from Chicago — her parents having fled from Cuba back in the 1960s. As Gómez explains in her post, Bofill did not have a connection with her Latinx heritage until she moved to New York and was able to meet the local Latinx people in the theater world. She’s the founding member of Labyrinth Theater Company — which received the nickname “Latino Acting Base” or LAB. 

The immigrants in Gómez’s stories are also community leaders who make a difference in the lives of other marginalized people

Instagram / @mslauragomez

Originally from Argentina, Cecilia Gentili is an advocate and community leader. She started off as an intern for the LGBT Community Center in New York City and later managed the Transgender Health Program at the Apicha Community Health Center. Through her work, she has trained thousands of individuals about topics like LGBTQ inclusion, immigration, drug use, sexual health, trans sensitivity, and intersectionality. Truly, Gentili’s work is making her community and other communities more inclusive and safer for marginalized folks. 

Gómez’s Instagram saga is exactly how stars should use their platforms to lift up others with important stories to share. This is what advocacy looks like and we need more show like “Orange Is The New Black” to discuss the issues impacting our world. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsU6sfE_KuQ

Guatemala’s President Is Going To Have To Settle The Immigration Negotiation With Trump

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Guatemala’s President Is Going To Have To Settle The Immigration Negotiation With Trump

dr.giammattei / Instagram

Tuesday marked a new era of leadership in Guatemala as the Latin country swore in Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative doctor and former prison system director from the right-wing Vamos party. The 63-year-old won the presidency on his fourth attempt back in August with bold promises of changing a corrupt government and restoring the rule-of-law in city streets. 

“Today, we are putting a full stop on corrupt practices so they disappear from the face of this country,” Giammattei said at his swearing-in ceremony that had a five-hour delay.

His ceremony somewhat overshadowed by delays and protests against ex-President Jimmy Morales, who for four years dodged accusations of corruption. The scene of protestors throwing eggs and voicing anger at the outgoing administration was a reminder of the displeasure against the country’s deep-seated political corruption. It’s also a key reason why many are looking to Giammattei to bring change to the struggling country. 

As Giammattei takes office, there are questions on what his presidency will mean to Guatemala in the short and long term as issues over the future of an asylum deal with the United States comes into focus. 

One of the biggest issues confronting Guatemala and one that Giammattei will have to address early is the Asylum Cooperation Agreement (ACA) that was signed by Morales last July with the U.S. government. The agreement, which was highly opposed in Guatemala, lets U.S. immigration officials send Honduran and Salvadoran migrants that are requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border to apply for protection here instead. There is now increasing skepticism as reports say that the U.S. wants to expand the deal to include Mexican asylum seekers as well.

Last year, there were many Guatemalans that were part of a 3,000 migrant caravan that made its way up from Latin America to the U.S. The caravan consisted of people that were looking to claim asylum and became a symbol of the growing migration crisis at the southern border. President Trump frequently attacked the caravan and eventually threatened to impose tariffs on Guatemala if it didn’t agree to the asylum deal.

According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute, “as of Friday, 128 Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers had been sent as part of the agreement,” with only a limited number actually applying for asylum there and others returning home. Giammattei has previously said that he’s willing to make changes to the agreement but on Tuesday said he would revisit details later. 

The country, one of Latin America’s poorest nations, is a key part of President Trump’s plan to curb illegal immigration and asylum claims. mostly from those coming to the U.S. Southern border. The issue for many living in Guatemala is how to let those seeking asylum when itself has become a major source of U.S. bound migrants. 

Poverty levels have only grown in the last 20 years and income inequality levels continue to be a big problem in the country. 

One of the big platform issues that Giammattei ran his campaign on was helping the shorten income inequality gap and poverty levels that have only grown in the last 20 years. Fifty-nine percent of Guatemalan citizens live below the poverty line and almost 1 million children under the age of 5 are believed to live with chronic malnutrition, according to the AP. 

There is also the rampant problem of street violence and cartel gangs that have had a major effect on the daily lives of many in the country. Giammattei plans to address this with reforms that include designating “street gangs as terrorist groups.”

“This is the moment to rescue Guatemala from the absurd. It is the moment to combat corruption and malnutrition,” Giammattei said on Tuesday in his first address to the country as president. “There is no peace without security, I will present a law that aims to declare street gangs for what they are – terrorist groups.”

There is hope that Giammattei will turn a new page in Guatemala that will see change come to all in the country that has faced uncertainty for years. But only time will tell if this is indeed new leadership or business as usual.

“We will bring back the peace this country so dearly needs,” Giammattei said. “We will govern with decency, with honourability, and with ethical values.”

READ: In Efforts To Double Latino Representation In Hollywood, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti Unveils New Historic Initiative

Mexican National Jumped To His Death Off A Bridge After He Was Denied Asylum

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Mexican National Jumped To His Death Off A Bridge After He Was Denied Asylum

El Mañana de Reynosa / Facebook

To understand why undocumented immigrants will do everything in their power to get to the United States is to fundamentally understand what is at the core of their fears. They are not all seeking the “American Dream” or to have a better life, many are seeking to have a life free of fear and violence. For many people seeking asylum, it’s a matter of life or death. Remaining in their home countries means death, and there’s no other way of saying it. People are dying at the hands of gangs and the cartels. So, when people risk their lives to enter the U.S. without documentation, it’s because they have nothing to lose. The worst part of all is being turned away by the U.S. because some of these have nothing else to live for. 

A Mexican national in his 30s or 40s cut his throat and jumped to his death off a bridge across the Rio Grande after he was denied by the U.S. border patrol.

Credit: @mlnangalama / Twitter

The man, who has yet to be identified, committed suicide on Wednesday, Jan. 8, and according to several news reports, was seeking asylum. Reports say that he jumped off the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, which is between the Mexican border city of Reynosa and Pharr, Texas. 

We attempted to reach information about his death via the U.S. border patrol. However, because the death occurred on Mexican soil, American officials do not have to comment about the death or include it in any of their reports. 

Mexican officials are investigating the death further.

Credit: El Mañana de Reynosa / Facebook

The prosecutor’s office for the Mexican state of Tamaulipas did release more information about the man saying, “He was attempting to cross to the U.S. side to request asylum. When he was denied entry, he walked several meters (yards) toward the Mexican side and cut himself with a knife.” The death occurred around 5 p.m. local time. 

It’s unclear why the man decided to take such extreme measures, but as we noted earlier, some of the undocumented people have said returning home is like facing death. 

According to footage made available to the Spanish-language publication, El Mañana de Reynosa, a video shows the man pacing back and forth on the bridge while officials attempt to calm him down.  The standoff lasted for about 15 minutes. Since the man was behaving dangerously, U.S. officials closed the gates to the border and stopped international entry. After the man jumped, the Red Cross arrived at the scene where he was pronounced dead. 

Undocumented people are facing even more hardships when getting denied asylum. Aside from “remaining in Mexico” until it’s time for their asylum hearing, some are now being transferred to Guatalama even if they’re Mexican.

Credit: El Mañana de Reynosa / Facebook

This week the Trump Administration announced that some Mexican nationals would be sent to Guatalama under near agreements between both country officials. 

“Certain Mexicans seeking humanitarian protection in the United States may now be eligible to be transferred to Guatemala and given the opportunity to seek protection there, under the terms of the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement,” a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement to NBC News.

To make matters worse, the outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said that agreement never became official. He said the U.S. would have to discuss the matter further with the new president. 

“It’s more than clear; in the agreement, it only lays out Salvadorans and Hondurans,” Morales said, according to Time magazine. “The United States has talked about the possibility of including Mexican nationals, but that they have to discuss it with the next government. In the last visit we made to the White House with President Trump we were clear saying that that negotiation had to be done with the new government.”

All of this disorganization by the part of the United States just complicates matters more for the vulnerable undocumented community. They seek to enter the United States, and getting turned away means more uncertainty than before. 

This is not the first time a person has committed suicide soon after being deported. 

Credit: @adv_project / Twitter

In 2017,  44-year-old Guadalupe Olivas Valencia also jumped to his death soon after he was deported to Mexico. He had been previously living in California, working as a gardener. 

READ: Trump Administration Plans To Send Some Mexican Asylum-Seekers To Guatemala And Mexico Is Fighting Back