Lupe Ontiveros, Actor and Activist, Passes at 69

Lupe Ontiveros, actor, activist, and role model for generations of Latinos, succumbed to liver cancer last night at home in Los Angeles. She was only 69 years old.

Ontiveros leaves behind a vast legacy of incredible roles and outspokenness about typecasting of Latinas. She is notorious for speaking out against the amount of times she's been offered roles as housekeepers and magical abeulas—and yet accepted a grip of them, having played a housekeeper around 300 times, by her own estimate. In 2002, she told the New York Times, ''I'm proud to represent those hands that labor in this country." Throughout her life, Ontiveros had been an advocate for labor and for women's education, as well as better health care for Latinas. Before she was an actor, she worked for 18 years as a social worker at a Head Start in Compton and East Los Angeles. 

Yet in recent years, she was increasingly celebrated for her talent, and offered roles that stretched beyond the Latina maid typecast (for which she often had to feign an accent; her parents were Mexican immigrants, and Ontiveros grew up in San Antonio). Perhaps her most famous role among Latinos was that of Yolanda Saldivar, the crazed fan who murdered Tejano jewel Selena in the film Selena. But she also played a cavalcade of characters we love: as America Ferrera's fussy madre in Real Women Have Curves; as a devout believer of Jesus on a tort in Tortilla Heaven; as a hardass theater director in Chuck & Buck; as the mother of murdered transgender teen Gwen Araujo in A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story. She was a true talent, a fiercely funny character actor, and she will be deeply missed.

By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at July 27, 2012, 9:46am