Social Media Effect on the News of Lupe Ontiveros’ Death

By Elia Esparza

It was Thursday, July 26, 2012, early morning when a confidential email was sent to the hosts of Let’s Talk! (Bel Hernandez, Dyana Ortelli, Kikey Castillo, Naibe Reynoso-Hodsden) and to our show’s director Dan Guerrero, our associate producer, Lorena Alvarado and myself the show’s writer. In fact it was one of the Let’s Talk! ladies who sent an SOS that she had received that veteran actor Lupe Ontiveroswas in the hospital in grave condition.Only a few select people in Lupe’s close circle knew that she was near death.

Bel and her husband, actor Enrique Castillo, rushed to her side where they stayed the entire day and night along with other of Lupe’s close friends and family. Bel informed us not to say anything on Facebook or tell anyone to honor the family’s privacy wishes. We held this great secret for several hours all of us sitting nervously on pins and needles worried sick about our precious friend. There was nothing we could do or say but pray in private. Then later in the early afternoon, Bel contacted us (from the hospital) that we could post. I believe Bel was first one, then Dyana, then the rest of us. Seconds after each post, not even minutes, seconds, Facebook exploded with comments, prayers and anxious friends and fans wanting to know more information… “is she really going to die?” one person asked.

Jacob Vargas

My cell phone started to ring off the hook, with more questions of people who could not believe what was being reported on Facebook and on Twitter. “What’s going on with Lupe,” an anxious music producer Ben Esparza (no relation to me) asked. He was devastated.A few minutes after Lupe died around 10:20 p.m. that night, Latin Heat Entertainment broke the story on Facebook, while actor Jacob Vargas (who had been at the hospital) broke the news on Twitter, ahead of all the news wires. Lupe always the great supporter of her community and colleagues and even in death, she was still supporting us via her family allowing her friends to be the first to report her passing.

There is no doubt that celebrity deaths have a special place in the social media world. Lupe’s passing had not just the Latino community but the entire world was chiming in. “Before social media, fans lacked the usual channels through which people would normally use to express their sorrow and grief,” stated Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication at Purdue University. “We can’t phone the celebrity’s family to express our grief. We can’t offer to bring meals to the house. We’re generally not invited to attend the funeral services. In short, while we still care immensely and have deep emotional involvement with the person, we have none of the usual social outlets for our emotional expressions. That’s where social media may be playing an increasing role.”

According to Sparks, the parasocial relationship may have been principally a one-way kind of experience where the celebrity never really talked back. “The sense of interaction with the Twitter community over the celebrity’s death may tend to provide some sense that – at long last—there is a sort of mutual, two-way communication taking place around the celebrity. This can be a very powerful emotional experience for the one who is grieving the loss,” he said.

Lupe’s “Word Cloud”

Alex Mendoza, an event image specialist, found out how profound social media was responding to Lupe’s death as he was trying to come up with a creative banner he could make to pay tribute to his good friend. “I was overwhelmed with grief, such sadness clogging my creativity,” he recalled. “I was having trouble coming up with something worthy of her.”

Mendoza said he went on Facebook and read the comments on his wall and started collecting some of the sentiments that stood out. He continued reading other FB comments and he couldn’t stop. “Once I realized that it was not just my friends and family who were posting, I went on Twitter and searched her name.”

What he found were hundreds and hundreds of tweets. “Some really surprised me because there were things there that I didn’t even know she did and I thought I knew everything about Lupe,” he said.  “I collected 80 pages of quotes within 24 hours.

The graphic designer said he read Tweets from GLADD, MALDEFF and LULAC. Then went on to read SAG, AFTRA, UFW, NALEO, NOSOTROS, LATC, LALIFF, NCLR, Imagen, NHAF, Hola, you name it, he read them. “Everyone,” he said, “were giving thanks and praise. I still can’t say I know all the organizations she gave time, effort, love, support, face and soul.”

This is the moment that Mendoza was hit with inspiration. He would forget a one-liner banner and decided to create a “word cloud” from the 80 pages of comments and tweets he collected from Twitter, Tumbler and Facebook. He copied and pasted for hours.

The end result is an amazing visual that captures the true essence of what Lupe was thought of and who she was.

Mendoza states that the organization NALIP was gracious to donate the key art which saved him hours of work he did not have. “NALIP’s sharing is the only reason I was able to deliver the best, most incredible banner in time for Lupe’s memorial services,” Mendoza said.

He’s honored to be able to create something “just deserving of  la mas picara de todos los santos!,” he chuckled with a hint of sadness.

Note: In an accompanying article, Alex Mendoza will share how he created his Lupe Ontiveros Memorial “word cloud” banner.

Alex Mendoza is the owner and operator of AMARTE Event Image Specialists (http://www.amarte.biz) based out of Temple City, CA. He is not just an artist and signage expert, but also a social civil activist involved in many causes and organizations.

Lupe Ontiveros’ Organizations She Supported (Partial List)
Los Angeles Theater Company, http://www.thelatc.org
Greater Los Angeles Agency in Deafness, Inc., http://www.gladinc.org/
United Farm Works, http://www.ufw.org/
Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund, http://www.maldef.org/
Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, http://www.nclr.org/
National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials, http://www.naleo.org/
The Walls Las Memorias, http://www.thewalllasmemorias.org
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, http://www.glaad.org/
National Council of La Raza, http://www.nclr.org/
National Association of Latino Independent Producers, http://www.nalip.org/

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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).