"I feel like every day I’m learning how to be more comfortable with myself."

By Brenda Barrientos
June 12, 2019 02:11 PM

Actress, author, activist. What doesn't Diane Guerrero do? Her latest initiative: The Colombian-American has partnered with Vitafusion and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation to support areas in need by planting 200,000 fruit trees by 2020. "This cause is particularly close to my heart, as I understand what it's like to grow up in a community with little access to good nutrition and fresh fruits and vegetables," says the native of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. What's so great about fruit trees, aside from the fact that they provide healthy, delicious food? They help sustain natural water resources, filter air pollutants and improve soil quality. The program encourages communities to "participate in everything from nutrition to farming together," says Guerrero.

When the Orange Is the New Black star isn't speaking up for the greening and revitalization of underserved areas, she is fighting for immigration reform. At the age of 14, she was separated from her family: Her parents were deported back to Colombia, forcing her to live with friends in the United States. In her memoir, In the Country We Love: My Divided Family, published in 2016, she opened up about the hardships she endured within a broken system.

Even as her acting career took off (you can see her on shows as varied as Jane the Virgin and Doom Patrol), she's consistently found time to devote to her causes, lending her voice to the voiceless. At the May launch of the tree planting program in Brooklyn, she had a candid conversation with CHICA about her good works - and the reality of being a short woman in modern-day America.

Craig Barritt / Stringer

CHICA: Tell us about your partnership with Vitafusion and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation?

Diane: It's to bring awareness to underserved communities about the importance of health and the environment. This is something that often communities of color lack because of the lack of resources, lack of government health. And it's up to us people in the community and organizations like Vitafusion and the fruit tree planting foundation to bring that to life. I always want to be a part of organizations and projects that reflect my mission. My mission is to serve my community as best as I can. I come from the Latinx community, which is very dear to my heart. That's all I know. And my mission is to help their well-being as much as possible, because I know what it is to grow up in that environment and have no one care.

CHICA: What advice do you have for aspiring activists that want to use their voice in their community yet don't necessarily have the platform to do so.

Diane: I think that sometimes we get bogged down by the fact that we may not have a platform or sometimes things are too hard. But I think that we are destined as a community to work hard, and we're working hard and using our voices. Especially now, speaking against injustice and unfairness, so that the generations to come, that are gonna be in our community, are thriving. I advise them to link up with organizations that are doing things that interest them, things that are good for the community, and just not to be afraid of that hard work. I know that I have the luxury of having this platform, and I have a story that is compelling to people. But everyone's story is compelling, and sharing our stories is part of healing our community. And so if you have an interest in helping and in social justice, if that's your bag, go for it. There are so many people who are willing to support you. I'm here to support you. There's different organizations that are here supporting. I will never stop speaking out and defending my community, and I hope that they won't either.

CHICA: Was there ever a moment when you realized "I have this platform, I need to take advantage of it"?

Diane: I think I was so sick of being overlooked, not just me, but my community. My family disregarded, spoken ill about, you know. So in 2016, when my senses were a little heightened to what was going on in the world, I saw my community attacked, and I wanted to … retaliate against that. And not to retaliate with evil words, not with anger or violence. I wanted to retaliate with love and the truth. And I wanted to speak my truth, oftentimes we don't get to do that. I was blessed to have a great opportunity with a show like Orange Is the New Black that aligned me with other Latinx voices and other African-American voices and other feminist voices, to have that community that empowered me. And I just wanted to share that it is possible for you to find community and unite. And be powerful too. And I didn't want to waste that. I didn't want to waste that by being afraid to speak my truth.

CHICA: Do you feel like there has been a shift in Hollywood as far as inclusivity and diversity?

Diane: Well, I think that there has been no other choice for that shift to happen, because something had to give. I mean, we've been underrepresented for so long, you know, things get stiff. And I think that we saw the backlash of having only one story told. And I mean, that happens when people are pressured and when they need to tell their stories in order to heal their communities…. And I think that we have to stop asking for permission, and people have stopped asking for permission, and they're seeing their stories told and people are receiving that. We are not a minority. We are part of the majority and we're ever growing, this country needs to get hip to that.

CHICA: The "ideal" body type in the entertainment and fashion industries is white, skinny, and tall. You are one of the many women who are shredding the idea that the ideal woman has only one look. Asking as someone who's a bit sensitive about being on the short side, was your height ever discouraging to you?

Diane: Well, I used to think that I wasn't tall enough for a lot of things. And I realized over the years that height and your physical appearance doesn't matter. What matters is what's in your heart; it matters what's in your head. And if you care about others and you lead with love, that is all that matters. That is powerful as hell. So I love my tall brothers and sisters, but I also want to represent for for my short brothers and sisters, because stature is just stature.

People always come to me and go, "Oh, you're so short." I don't say anything about it, but I want to lead with, if I ever go up to a person, I want to talk about what they have inside. "Wow, you're so smart. You're so funny." That's how I want to lead my life. And that's what kind of messages I want to continue spreading. And I'll do that by being really comfortable with who I am, which is something that I'm working on, just being comfortable with me, with my height, wearing sneakers and not always wearing heels. You know, not feeling little when there's tall people around. You got to love yourself. The more you love yourself, others will respect that and love you too.

CHICA: I love that because as someone who's also short, I sometimes don't feel as confident being in a room full of tall people.

Diane: Yeah. Oh yeah. I get it. People always feel like it's OK to like comment on your height, which is like, a form of body shaming.

CHICA: "You're so cute. You're so small."

Diane: Yeah. I'm like, that's OK. Don't comment on my body. That's none of your business, right?

CHICA: I know a couple of people still have a hard time accepting their height, even as an adult, myself included. I'm someone that wears heels almost all the time.

Diane: Me too. They had to force me to wear sneakers to this, but I'm happy I did. I feel like every day I'm learning how to be more comfortable with myself.