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

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

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

"Yesterday, my mother passed away at 10:20 p.m. in the company of her family," said Ontiveros' son, Elias Ontiveros. "My father Elias, brother Nicholas, and I were in her presence as she took her last breath."

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..."

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."

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

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund