'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love

'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love
Diane Guerrero wears a Collina Strada dress with Christian Siriano shoes.Josefina Santos for Insider

Diane Guerrero is giving me a tattoo tour. It's a scorching August day in Manhattan, and we're seated outside the Bowery Hotel during the weekday lunch rush. The 36-year-old actor is dressed for the weather in an airy, floral midi skirt, large sunglasses, and a black cropped tank that shows off her ink.


Guerrero points to one tattoo — a pair of lips holding a rose — that she's always thought looks like a vulva. (She's right.) Another, on her forearm, depicts a skeleton holding cotton candy. It represents the cover of her 2016 memoir, "In the Country We Love: My Family Divided," as well as her partner, Bryan Crawford, who often poses the same way, his gangly arm raised in a cheeky wave.

Next she points to four letters near her wrist: IPOC, which stands for Indigenous people of color. An acquaintance at UC Irvine first introduced Guerrero to the term, and while she wanted to get the more widely used QTPOC (queer and trans people of color), the acquaintance discouraged her because of Guerrero's gender identity and sexuality at the time.

But Guerrero has more clarity now, and it might be time for an update. "I support trans lives, and I am exploring my sexual identity," she says, "so maybe I'll add the QT."

'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love
Diane Guerrero wears a Melitta Baumeister dress.Josefina Santos for Insider

Guerrero has previously spoken about how two characters she plays — Isabela in the animated film "Encanto" and Jane on DC's "Doom Patrol," in which she currently stars — are gay, but she's remained relatively mum about her own sexual orientation, despite attending Pride celebrations in the past.


Now, Guerrero broaches the topic matter-of-factly, describing her vision of her future: a big family with several "baby daddies," as well as partners who aren't straight, cisgender men. Ideally, they'll all live on a farm. Guerrero laughs at how eager she thinks she sounds. "Please write that in a way that doesn't make me sound like I fetishize the idea," she says.

I feel like I have my life, and I want to devote it to art and connecting with people and my ancestors. I want to work on being OK for that last moment of fleshy breath. Diane Guerrero

Guerrero broke into Hollywood as inmate Maritza Ramos on the critically acclaimed Netflix drama "Orange Is the New Black" and later played Lina Santillan on "Jane the Virgin," opposite Gina Rodriguez. Her most recent roles in "Encanto" and "Doom Patrol" have earned her even more visibility. As her profile has risen, Guerrero has arrived at a place of ease and self-acceptance, and she's exploring new facets of her identity. She's repairing her relationships with her family. And she's reexamining what it means to be successful. "I used to look at social media and be like, 'I'm behind,'" she says. "All these people are doing all these projects, and you need to get there. That means you have to work really hard. That means you can't take vacations. That means you have to do things you don't want to do."

"I don't believe that now," she tells me. "I feel like I have my life, and I want to devote it to art and connecting with people and my ancestors. I want to work on being OK for that last moment of fleshy breath."

Guerrero says the trauma of her parents' deportation shaped not only her early life, but how she saw her career

For years, Guerrero felt a constant need to prove herself. She was born in Passaic, New Jersey to undocumented Colombian parents, and although money was tight, her childhood was filled with seaside outings, music, and home-cooked meals. Still, being the child of immigrants took a toll. "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," she says.

The move to the US wasn't easy for her parents, Guerrero says, but they were convinced America had more to offer than their native Colombia. "Of course they saw the US as democracy and freedom," Guerrero says. "Like, 'We can come here and clean houses, and we still get to be happy.' Do you get to be happy, though?"


She pauses, considering her question.

"At 69, my dad was diagnosed with mesothelioma," a type of soft-tissue cancer, Guerrero says. "You get that through asbestos. Thank you, American dream."

The facade of America as utopia truly crumbled when Guerrero was 14. Years after the family had left New Jersey for the suburbs of Boston, both of her parents were deported, along with her older half-brother, leaving Guerrero alone and adrift. Her parents did not return to the US, and Guerrero had to travel to Colombia to see them.

Friends and family members took her in until she left for college, and her high-school humanities teacher, Abdi Ali, says that Guerrero never spoke about her parents' absence. "It was only after she graduated that I understood the depth of what she had gone through," he says. But as Guerrero herself later explained, her childhood was effectively over. She first spoke publicly about her experience in a viral 2014 op-ed for The Los Angeles Times, and shared more about the ordeal in her memoir, published two years later.

'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love
Diane Guerrero wears a Versace dress with Versace shoes and Odissea rings.Josefina Santos for Insider

Despite the trauma Guerrero experienced, Ali says she remained dedicated to developing her craft. He credits Guerrero's interest in acting in part to reading Shakespeare with him after school, at times carrying on full conversations in iambic pentameter. Now, the two usually talk about once a week, with Guerrero sending her former teacher funny memes and Instagram DMs.


Ali says he's beyond proud of Guerrero's trajectory. "When I watch her on the screen, there's a sense in which the whole world is possible," he says. "I think its genesis is in part from this sharp, traumatic, cataclysmic sense of displacement, which millions of people experience."

For a long time, her parents' deportation shaped the way Guerrero thought about her work. "I spent so much time trying to establish myself and prove to the world that I was worthy — that they made a mistake when they separated my family," she says.

She also felt pressure to send money to her large extended family in Colombia for things like dental work, rent, and medical care. And while she says she was overjoyed to be able to provide for her relatives, the constant pull led to her taking jobs, including promoting bunion treatments on Instagram, that weren't fulfilling.

Guerrero says the constant need to make money felt like a tool of oppression. Capitalism "is all about worrying about things you cannot control. That's how they keep this hamster wheel going," she says. "I don't wanna be a fucking hamster in that wheel anymore."

These days Guerrero is "no longer living in survival mode," so she can be more selective about the kind of work she takes on. She's reserving her energy for projects that genuinely inspire her. "Why don't I try doing something that's going to move the needle? Take care of myself first, and do things that I really love, and see what that generates?"


The recent death of Guerrero's father was shattering, but ultimately helped repair her relationship with her mother

Guerrero's frantic pace early in her career had other costs. It took away from her time with her father, Hector, with whom she was extremely close, and who died of cancer earlier this year. "I could have been happy just doing nothing with dad," she says. "Going to the mountains. Going to watch a movie. Calling him."

Guerrero's Instagram is dotted with photos of her and her father in Colombia. One photo, posted in 2020, shows Guerrero kissing Hector's cheek on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Another, posted after Hector's death, features Guerrero sitting with her arms around him. "I know you are still with me," the caption reads.

Her father's passing left Guerrero shattered. It also changed the way she thinks about death. "I don't want to live like death doesn't exist," she explains. "I want to live like I know death is right next to me. Like, 'Hey, death. What's up, babe?'"

'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love
Diane Guerrero wears a Claudia Li dress.Josefina Santos for Insider

Guerrero was raised Catholic, but her belief in reincarnation offers her some solace. She and her dad are "energetically linked forever, and his energy ain't going nowhere," she says, smiling. "He's gonna come back to me somehow. I don't know what way that is yet — hint, hint, my children — but I know he'll be back in human form in some way."

Her dad's passing also changed her relationship with her mother, Margoth, who was forced to miss milestones in Guerrero's life, including her first period and her first time shopping for a bra. At the time, Guerrero wrote in her memoir, she resented her mother.


As Guerrero got older, however, she and Margoth began to work on their relationship. And while Hector's death was unbearable, Guerrero says caring for her sick father alongside her mother helped soften the years of resentment. Shortly after Hector died, Guerrero had a dream in which he physically placed her mother next to her. "To me, he was saying, 'It's time for you and your mother to live the relationship that both of you have always wanted,'" she says.

'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love
Diane Guerrero wears a Versace blazer with a Odissea choker.Josefina Santos for Insider

Now Guerrero speaks of her mother with pure admiration, pulling out her phone to show me photos of Margoth in cycling attire standing proudly next to a mountain bike on a dirt road. Margoth often wakes up at 5 or 6 a.m. to bike, Guerrero says, and has finally embraced her gray hair instead of dying it every month.

"My mother has evolved so much," Guerrero says. "Her outlook on the world is totally different. She is spiritual — she trusts the universe. She's embracing all that is hers."

Guerrero says her sexuality and her view of the future is 'evolving'

Guerrero's own spirituality seems to have eased any fear she has about her future. But there are still bumps ahead, especially when it comes to her relationship.

Guerrero and Crawford have been together for five years and have two dogs (Penelope Cruz, a feisty Chihuahua, and Sally, a mellow black Lab). "He's smart as hell. He's funny," she says of Crawford. "He's a Gemini, he's from Missouri, and he's a lover of music." The couple recently became a "writing team" — Guerrero tells me they want to "tell stories together."


But then Guerrero pauses for a breath, and her mood shifts.

"I don't know if I want to talk about this," she says after a moment. "But we are seeing how we can evolve in our relationship. And so we are in couples therapy."

'Encanto' star Diane Guerrero on how her parents' deportation taught her to evolve — in life and in love
Diane Guerrero wears a Prabal Gurung dress with Ulla Johnson shoes.Josefina Santos for Insider

"Relationships evolve — they get stale," she continues. "Right now, we're exploring the question of: Do all relationships get stale? What do you do to revive them? What do you do to evolve with them? Whether it's through ethical non-monogamy or polyamory, what does that look like?"

"I want to be free," she continues. "I wanna be in a life and in a family where I feel free to explore myself and others."

To supplement their work in therapy, the couple are reading books like "Sex at Dawn," which proposes a new approach to monogamy, and "Pleasure Activism," which explores how social-justice work can be joyful and fulfilling. So far, Guerrero has been most struck by the fact that non-monogamy isn't a new or even a particularly radical idea. "Before the colonizers came, women would have babies with different men of the tribe, and everyone was happy," she says. "It's like, yeah, shit, that makes a lot of sense to me."



Our conversation begins to wind down, and I find myself feeling meditative and relaxed. Chatting with Guerrero has that effect. No matter the topic, she seems at ease and sure of herself — like she finally knows where she's going and isn't too caught up in how she'll get there.

I ask Guerrero where she sees herself in ten years, and she leans across the table to answer. "I want to be truthful," she says. "I didn't trust anyone to be honest growing up because I was so traumatized. If I told anyone my truth, that meant my parents would get arrested or people would judge me."

"But I want to be painting. I want to be doing yoga and swimming and foraging for mushrooms," Guerrero continues. "I wanna trip on acid when I'm 60. I don't wanna worry about my looks. I don't wanna spend my fucking life in the gym if it doesn't feel good. I don't wanna worry about keeping up with the Joneses."

She sits back in her chair and smiles. "I wanna be that old lady who walks around with a bunch of bangles," she says. "I wanna make noise when I walk by, in a long muumuu, naked underneath, just vibing."