photo: Jamie Hopper

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Dania Ramirez didn’t completely understand why her parents left her and sister behind to go live in the United States. And, even though they all finally reunited when she was about 10 years old, it wasn’t until she made “An American Alien,” a mini doc about her family’s immigrant experience, that helped her grasp the sacrifice her parents made.

In the film, Ramirez takes us back to New York where she grew up when she first arrived from the Dominican Republic. She asks her parents about leaving their native country, if it was all worth it, and in an emotional exchange between Ramirez and her mother Agueda, “We had to leave you girls behind in pursuit of a dream. But I don’t regret it because we made it. You graduated, studied, and our American Dream lives within you.” And, that she did.

Even though Ramirez was set on making it in Hollywood, she knew how much her parents valued education so she enrolled and graduated from Montclair State University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Then, she quickly moved to Los Angeles and has been acting ever since. From X-Men to The Sopranos to Entourage to Heroes, it’s all led her to a leading role on Devious Maids now filming its third season.

“I never asked them how it felt to leave us so to hear and feel the pain in my mom’s voice brought to such a place of gratitude. As a mother myself now, I felt humbled. Her sacrifice was much bigger than I imagined,” Ramirez says of her filming experience which she also co-directed in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month.

Immigrant Heritage Month is celebrating its second year throughout the month of June, Welcome.us — a new non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating the United States’ immigrant heritage — is encouraging others to share their stories in turn highlighting their contributions, a push Ramirez is passionate about.

There are more than 41 million immigrants in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute, making up about 13 percent of the American population, and that population is only expected to grow.

“It’s about sharing my immigrant story to not only inspire other immigrants but to open up the minds of those who think “immigrants” are just here to take things from our society and not contribute. America is built on immigrants and I am proud to be one!” Ramirez says.