Lupe Ontiveros was a dear friend and it makes me incredibly sad to know that I'll never see her again in this life. I won't be able laugh at her risqué jokes, become energized by her vitality or feel her incredible lust for life. She was bigger than life itself and just as colorful.
After getting word from her son, Elias, on his mother's passing, I quietly reminisced on the 40 plus years that I knew her. I remembered casting her in her first small film. I also remembered a terrible moment years later when I questioned whether Lupe really was as talented as I thought she was, or if it was an illusion created by our friendship and my desire to see her succeed. After all, no one was hiring her in substantial roles.
Over time, I came to understand that my impression of Lupe wasn't wrong at all. She was incredibly talented and truly deserved to triumph at the highest level. Unfortunately, there was a general lack of opportunity for her and other talented Latinos during her time in the spotlight, which extended practically all the way up to her death.
As I continued to reflect, I remembered becoming offended, angry and sad to see what should have been the most productive years of Lupe's life become a waiting game that forced her to languish in stereotypical roles until age overcame her and she was relegated to smaller supporting roles on film and television. Nevertheless, she shone brightly and by her middle fifties her talent finally became obvious and real for everyone to see and applaud.
And now here we are, and all I have of her are fond memories and the regret that I couldn't do more to open doors for her so that she could demonstrate her talents 30 and 40 years ago, when she was in her prime. We can't continue to let this happen.
I don't write any of this to diminish the long and productive life of a dear friend. As a pioneer, Lupe's career belonged to all of us, and she made us all incredibly proud and created new dreams for generations of Latinos and Latinas. My only aim is to highlight that despite her accomplishments she couldn't outrun the prejudices of the industry in which she worked. And despite our tireless efforts and our fight for equity, we failed her.
It shouldn't have been so hard for somebody of Lupe's immense talents to be recognized and embraced. The fleeting moment of doubt that I had about Lupe's talents all those years ago is one of the reasons I do what I do today. Nobody should doubt brilliance. When somebody has a true gift we are all better off if they are allowed to use it fully and freely. The doors of fairness and opportunity have to be forced open now so that more Latino talent doesn't wither on the vine or languish, as my dear friend and peleonera sister Lupe Ontiveros had to do all too often. I miss you more than ever, Lupita.
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