Lupe Ontiveros, perhaps best known for her roles in Selena and The Goonies, passed away last night after a battle with liver cancer. Ontiveros – the daughter of Mexican immigrants – was a prolific actress, having appeared in such well known films and television series as Charlies Angels, Fame, Who’s the Boss, Punky Brewster, Desperate Housewives (for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination), As Good as It Gets, Weeds, and Reba, among others.
Over the course of her 30- year career, Ontiveros spoke frequently and candidly about the challenges facing Latino actors in the U.S. Having played a maid an estimated 300 times in both theater and film, she had this to say about Hollywood and its relationship to Latinos in a 2002 NY Times interview:
It’s their continued perspective of who we are. They don’t know we’re very much a part of this country and that we make up every part of this country.
To play a maid, she noted, she often had to put on an accent she didn’t actually have. Nonetheless, while she chafed against the racial and cultural typecasting that often relegates Latinos to limited, stereotypical roles, she also expressed pride in her body of work, telling the LA Weekly:
I‘ve had a hell of a good time playing those maids. Each one to me is very special. Her own heart and soul lingers with my heart and soul. No matter how much I resent the stupidity that is written into them, the audacity that the industry has when they portray us in such a nonsensical, idiotic, such — oh my God! — such a degrading manner, still, my humor survives in these maids. I’m very proud of them.
Still, Ontiveros dreamed of the opportunity to expand her repertoire. “I long to play a judge. I long to play a lesbian woman. I long to play a councilman, someone with some chutzpah,” she once told NPR. After seeing her performances in 2000’s Chuck and Buck (which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination), and 2002’s Real Women Have Curves (for which she was awarded the Sundance Festival’s Special Jury Prize) it’s hard not to wish she’d been given more substantive chances to showcase her talents.
In addition to her legacy of Latino advocacy in Hollywood, Ontiveros also spent 15 years as a social worker in East L.A. and Compton, where she became involved as an activist issues confronting women and education. Both as a performer and an advocate, Ontiveros was an important voice in the Latino community and she will be truly missed.
Que descanses en paz, Lupe.