Lupe Ontiveros, who will long be remembered for the many memorable roles she played died on Thursday in Whittier, Calif. She was 69. The cause of the death was stated as liver cancer by her son, Nicholas Ontiveros.
A Mexican-American, Ontiveros was often type casted playing conventional Latino roles. In her career span of 35 years, she appeared in many movies and television series. For her role as a dominating mother in “Real Women Have Curves” she earned a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002. More recently she was nominated for an Emmy for her role in “Desperate Housewives” where she played the role of’s suspicious mother in law.
Her signature role remained as that of a Hispanic maid for which she said she play more than 150 times in television and films, like James L. Brooks’s “As Good as It Gets” and Steven Spielberg’s “Goonies”. She was vocal about Hollywood’s limited offering to Latino actors like herself who suffered being stereotyped and type cast.
“They don’t know we’re very much a part of this country and that we make up every part of this country,” she told The New York Times in 2002. “When I go in there and speak perfect English, I don’t get the part.”
Ontiveros longed for roles which would help showcase her real acting talent, she said in an interview. But more than often it was always the Mexican maid that she got and not the judge or heroine she wanted to play.
But she did not regret playing the maid role ever so often as she said it gave her steady work and she got an opportunity to depict the working class with respect and dignity. She narrated the 2005 documentary “Maid in America.”
“I’m proud to represent those hands that labor in this country,” she told The Times. “I’ve given every maid I’ve portrayed soul and heart.”
It was her ambition and dedication that kept her going, said her friend Alex Nogales who heads the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Ontiveros was a strong advocate for the hearing impaired. She even had the producers of the animated PBS show, “Maya & Miguel” include sign American Sign Language in one episode for which she voiced the grandmother character.
“She never stopped trying,” Mr. Nogales said. “In a way we feel we failed her by not banging those doors down. In our community she was an icon.”
Ontiveros is survived by her husband, Elias Ontiveros Jr.; her sons Nicholas, Alejandro and Elias, and two granddaughters.