Entertainment

‘I’m no longer living in survival mode’: ‘Encanto’ Actress Diane Guerrero Opens Up About Her Sexuality and Haunted Childhood

“Encanto” and “Jane the Virgin” actress Diane Guerrero, 36, sat down with Insider magazine for what might be her most intimate interview yet, opening up about her life’s story in a way that will surely help other young Latinos that deal with similar struggles. 

The actress shared details about her parents’ deportation when she was a child, coming to terms with exploring her sexuality, and her father’s tragic death last year.

Looking back at the adversity she experienced growing up and how it formed her identity today, Guerrero admitted that she can proudly say she is “no longer living in survival mode.”

The voice of “Encanto” character Isabela, was born in the U.S. — Passaic, New Jersey to be precise — but her parents and older half-brother were undocumented immigrants hailing from Colombia. As she recalls in the interview, she said she grew up always fearing her family would be deported.

Back in 2014, Guerrero wrote an op-ed for the L.A. Times describing the moment she realized her family had been deported when she was 14 years old. “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,” she wrote then. Finally one day her fears became true, she came back home from school and the house was empty.

Neighbors of their Boston home told her what had happened, and the parents of her friends took her in so she could stay in the United States. Shockingly, she remembers: “Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. 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.”

Guerrero worked in retail and coffee shops throughout high school, and privately “ached with every accomplishment” because her family wasn’t there to see her succeed.

The “Orange Is The New Black” star told Insider that today, her main goal is to be “truthful.” Why? She said she grew up not being able to “trust anyone” with her story as a child. “If I told anyone my truth, that meant my parents would get arrested or people would judge me,” Guerrero explained.

Now, she wants to savor life in a way she could not do before: “I want to be painting. I want to be doing yoga and swimming. I don’t wanna worry about my looks. I don’t wanna worry about keeping up with the Joneses.”

This idea of freedom indirectly honors her family’s struggles, hard work, and immigration journey— which undoubtedly made Guerrero’s success possible. The actress remembers her parents thinking: “We can come here and clean houses, and we still get to be happy,” but now she questions, “Do you get to be happy, though?”

On top of the hardship and trauma her family experienced, Guerrero also opened up about the tragic loss of her father this year. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma at 69 years old, which the actress explains is linked to asbestos— a potentially harmful mineral fiber found in wall insulation, floor tiles, and paint, and commonly inhaled during home repair work. To that, Guerrero says: “Thank you, American dream.”

Guerrero reflected on how his passing changed her perspective on life as a whole. “I want to live like I know death is right next to me,” she said. 

Her parents’ struggles continue to inform the way she lives today, going against generational trauma. “I spent all my life trying to live up to this fake expectation they implanted in us: that the closer we were to whiteness, the more valuable we were”— a thought process the actress has no doubt uprooted from her thinking and thrown away for good.

Explaining growing up “so traumatized,” Guerrero pushes away from that every day. Coming to terms with her sexuality, she described her openness to ethical non-monogamy. Thinking back to pre-Colonial times when “women would have babies with different men of the tribe, and everyone was happy,” New Jersey-born actress said, “that makes a lot of sense to me.”

Today, Guerrero is very involved in activism. She hosted the popular podcast “Yeah No, I’m Not Ok” with conversations about all things mental health and never misses a chance to celebrate Latinx culture and advocate for the issues that affect the Latinx community in the US.

There’s no doubt the actress will continue to pave the way, always using the difficulties of her past to push her forward. 

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