It’s now six months into 2020 and while there are many counting down the days until we can bid this year farewell, there are countless others who will say that the start of this new decade has been more eye-opening and an awakening this country and the world needs. Two of those people are actors and activists Wilmer Valderrama and Diane Guerrero. Long before coronavirus and the latest in the fight against racial injustice, these two have been using their platforms to educate, inspire and uplift their fellow Latinos and beyond.
For Wilmer, who came back to the States after living in Venezuela and Colombia until he was 13, his activism is a love letter to this country. The 40-year-old actor really started to get more involved around 17 years ago. “It was my way of paying it forward,” the Harness co-founder, whose partners include America Ferrera and her husband Ryan Piers Williams, tells HOLA! USA. “It’s my way to stay engaged and thank this country for the beautiful gifts that I’ve been given, so I started getting really involved in different things.”
A lot he doesn’t publicize, but he’s traveled the world with the USO over 46 times and also has been a beacon for the Latino community. While beginning his work with Voto Latino and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus almost two decades ago, his involvement started as a way to get people to fill out the Census and then to register to vote. “I started realizing the more stories I heard, the more people I met, there were so many of our communities that were not amplified when it comes to their needs, their thoughts,” he shares. “I was seeing a lot of me in these young men and women and my family in a lot of these parents.”
While many expected him to stay quiet and just be funny guy Fez on That ‘70s show, he found his voice and understood how to use his status and platform. “Acting is my day job and all of that but showing up to these things was just as much a part of my career,” he says. “I’m also paying taxes and am entitled to my own opinion. When I started sharing my opinion, I realized that I didn’t lose my arm or my leg doing it.”
Diane’s story is somewhat similar. She found her voice acting in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. “I didn’t set out for a show that had something to say, but it just kind of worked out that way,” she explains. “I was on a show that was very vocal about social justice and the injustices happening in the prison system. It was very motivating to be around this kind of storytelling. I was forced to look at myself, my own history and my own story.”
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Here’s the tea...today is #LatinaEqualPay Day, when Latinas "catch up" to what white, non-hispanic men were paid in 2018. The gap is widest for Latina workers, who on average earn only 54 cents for every $1 a man is paid. Meaning, they must work nearly two years to earn what white men earn in one year. This is unacceptable, and we need to act now. Latinas are powerful, and we deserve equal pay! @phenomenal tee benefits @mujerxsrising, which protects the rights of migrant women. Photo- @lelunddurond
The 33-year-old actress’ childhood was quite different to Wilmer’s. She was born in the US to undocumented Colombian parents, who were deported when she was 14. The Doom Patrol star has spoken candidly about living through that moment and has written two best-sellers: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided and My Family Divided: One Girl‘s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope to share her story. She was even instrumental in the ICE storyline in the final season of OITNB. The show that lasted seven seasons may have been one of her first roles in Hollywood, but it quickly solidified her place as a leader and role model among her peers.
Wilmer and Diane have been friends for years and star in the movie Blast Beat that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, so it comes as no surprise that she is considered a “family member” of Harness and that they are both involved in an array of causes that support Latinos and marginalized communities. In a time when it’s so important to show up, they are doing just that. Most recently, the NCIS actor launched his Six Feet Apart Series on Instagram to highlight essential workers from your neighborhood grocery store clerk to a farmworker handling the crops. With Harness, he and America Ferrera also introduced a new campaign #BeCounted to ensure that the Latinx community and others so often underrepresented fill out the 2020 Census.
As for Diane, she is so passionately continuing to join the fight for immigration rights by working with Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and Families Belong Together to name a couple and supporting Black Lives Matter and standing against racism and inequality. She was also one of the six Latinas behind the Querida Familia letter. Since our chat a few weeks ago, she has been taking to the streets to protest and using her platform to speak about police reform and fight for justice after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others have been killed by cops. Keep scrolling for more on their journey to their most impactful roles yet and be sure to read about the ten wonderful people and organizations they are uplifting.
HOLA! USA: Wilmer, I want to start with you. You took action very early on in the global pandemic and launched Six Feet Apart. Tell us how that Instagram series came to be.
Wilmer Valderrama: “What really kicked it off for me was I went to my local grocery store and [asked a clerk] how she is doing. She took a deep breath and said, ‘People are really mean. It’s not our fault we’re running out of toilet paper and canned food.’ I started realizing a lot of people were putting their frustrations and projecting to the grocery workers, whose only job is to show up. She told me that people get so mad at them and would say, ‘Well, I hope you f*%$% get COVID.’ It really inspired me to say we’re losing perspective here. We’re better than that. The best thing I can do right now is to lend my platforms to create perspective and to put a face to those statistics and those names and essential workers.”
For this special, you guys chose ten amazing organizations and people you wanted to highlight.
WV: “All these organizations are all about one thing – it’s about humanizing the statistic and embodying the individual that is affected by it. For us, as entertainers and organizers or activists, our main job is, and it’s within our strength, to story tell and amplify the stories that hopefully not just change the hearts but educate the minds of our communities in how to be there.”
Diane Guerrero: “As Wilmer was saying, a lot of these organizations are doing this work on the streets, are continuously doing this work for us, encouraging us, making us aware and also suggesting ways that we could help as a collective.”
Have you always been active or is this something that has come with age and experience?
DG: “I was forced to look at myself and my own history and story and say, ‘Wait, what am I doing to dismantle white supremacy? What am I doing to make sure that families stay together? What am I doing to uphold the values that I believe in?’ If every day your values are being assaulted and you are not doing anything to alleviate that, you are going to be a very angry person and a very hopeless person. That is what I started to feel when I wasn’t being active.”
WV: “I’ve been doing this for 16, 17 years. I love humankind. I am obsessed with a stranger, with their story, where they come from. When I see people emotionally being affected by something that as a community you can fix or broadcast, I get a fire for that.”
What advice do you have for the younger generation that might not know where to start with getting involved?
WV: “It’s a simple question with a loaded and critical answer. It’s as simple as sharing your opinion. Ask yourself how do you feel about what you’re seeing? How do you feel about this community? In that moment, I promise that you will be inspired by at the bare minimum to just show up and stand up. Whatever comes out of your mouth will be driven by your heart and your ability to fight for what’s right. It’s about soulfully being emotionally involved with what you’re standing up for and what you believe in because then that support is undeniable.”
DG: “I just think we need to be unapologetic about justice and equality. I don’t think there is any room for anyone to discredit how you have been oppressed or how your community has been. I would encourage them to use their voices loudly and educate themselves as much as they can so that what they’re saying has backing. You know the history is there. I would encourage young people to follow organizations and join them because there is a strength in numbers and unity is what we need.”
Wilmer, your WV Entertainment has a first-look deal with CBS Studios and a big part of both of your craft is highlighting Latinx stories…
WV: “At the beginning of my career, probably in the mid-late 90s, they would tell you if you were an actor that you stay in your lane. You don’t give your opinion on religion or politics. You were never treated like a person. What made us a little bit more fearless about just saying things that just stood out for humanity more than anything that these were not political conversations. Most of us artists are coming from a human perspective that none of us grew up with the privileges that our hard work has afforded us. I think that’s number one. To your point, we’ve taken our job very serious...”
DG: “People who say that you can separate art from reality, I mean, why we’re doing this work is so we can highlight realities in our lives and at least try to start conversations and support one another. I didn’t set out for a show that had something to say, but it just kind of worked out that way. As a woman of color, that’s kind of the roles you are going to play. It’s not necessarily the right thing, but certainly at that time, those are the sort of roles that were available –in the prison system, the gangster’s wife or a maid. I had to begin with that because there weren’t any girl next door roles for me at that point.”
What are some positives you’re finding during this time?
DG: “I think once we start coming from a place of love then that is the only way we can achieve justice. The way that we can do that is by loving ourselves so we can then in turn love our community. There’s no lack of storytelling because we are telling those stories. It’s just about accepting those truths and to stop living in complacency because it’s tired. We’re in different times. It has to be all hands on deck in order for our survival.”
WV: “It’s reminding me why I fight so hard for so many things. It’s really igniting so much more love in me, and I have way more patience in my life understanding that there are people out there who are just doing things that people have not even taken the time to imagine. I think that for Six Feet Apart, after all this returns to whatever version of normalcy will be for us, there’s going to be a need for the quick reminder of how can we be there for one another.”
Are you guys forever changed?
WV: “I wouldn’t say forever changed but forever reminded that we’re humans and that it’s okay to be vulnerable because we can count on one another when the fan gets hit.
DG: I don’t have time for BS anymore. I think what this time has taught me has been to learn that I’m not powerless; there is a huge community behind me. There are people doing the work. I have to continue doing that work too. It’s for the long run. This is a lifestyle and the way I want to live is through supporting my community and other communities. I have a lot to learn, but I’m willing to do the work. This has brought me a lot of peace in my life. We’re going to have a lot less tolerance for anything that isn’t trying to move the conversation forward or help relieve some of this dysfunction. Anything that comes my way that isn’t trying to do that, I have no time for it. I know in my heart that money. power and dominance aren’t things that I want to be a norm in my life. I want to live by a love ethic where love is primary.”
Make sure to read all about the wonderful organizations here.