MALDEF Mourns the Loss of Legendary Mexican American Actress, Lupe Ontiveros

She was a Forceful Voice for Social Justice, and a Trailblazer for Latinas Nationwide and a Dear Friend to MALDEF

LOS ANGELES – MALDEF is saddened at the passing of pioneering Mexican American actress, Lupe Ontiveros. Originally from El Paso, Texas, Ontiveros starred in several iconic Latino roles throughout her decades-long career.

MALDEF Vice President of Strategic Development and Communications David Damian Figueroa stated, “I’m heartbroken by the passing of my dear friend, mentor, and confidant Lupe. I will be forever grateful to her family for including me in her last hours. Lupe was a warrior in the fight for Latinos and civil rights. She was always willing to support MALDEF and her community. We owe her a great debt for her trailblazing contributions in the arts and as a tireless community servant. We have lost a great American icon.”

Ontiveros rose to prominence in 1983 for her role as a seamstress, maid, and mentor to an immigrant girl from Guatemala in the film El Norte, which was nominated for an Academy Award; and is best known for her role in the feature film Selena. She also starred in the theatrical and film versions of Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit; acted alongside Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets; starred in Steven Spielberg’s Goonies; and garnered an Emmy nomination for her role on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. The National Board of Review granted Ontiveros the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Chuck and Buck. Ontiveros was frequently cast in roles as a maid throughout her career, but she was known for proudly accepting those roles as a means to create opportunities for future Latina actors.

Actor and MALDEF Board Member Eva Longoria stated, “I’m deeply saddened at the news of my dear friend Lupe Ontiveros’ passing. She was more than a colleague to me, she was my family. My heart is with your family Lupe…”


From Left to Right: Thomas A. Saenz, Nydia Rojas, Dolores Huerta, Antonia Hernandez, Lupe Ontiveros, Linda Ronstadt, Eva Longoria, and David Damian Figueroa.

Ontiveros was a social worker for 18 years prior to becoming an actor. She maintained her activist spirit throughout her career as an actor, working to prevent domestic violence and promote awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention. She was a staunch supporter of MALDEF’s legal and advocacy work, joining MALDEF in 2010 in the effort to increase Latino awareness about the Census and frequently appearing at MALDEF events.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, “In an industry that too often ignores the largest minority group in the country, Lupe fought for recognition of the very existence and the dignity of immigrant and working Latinos. In all of her roles and in her irrepressible and irreverent humor, Lupe’s deeply heartfelt respect for her community always shined through. We were enormously privileged to have her support at MALDEF, and we will long feel this terrible and untimely loss.”

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Elia Esparza is a leading expert in communications and journalism targeting the burgeoning Hispanic market and has produced and written dozens of articles. President and CEO of Always Evolving PR and a Communications Specialist, Elia, incorporates her 18 years experience in the areas of entertainment and education public relations, and marketing. promotions, market research and translations (Eng/Span).