Lupe Ontiveros' great talent extended far past television, stage and motion pictures. Indeed, she was a fine actress, but more than that, she was a woman of great action. And she was my friend for more than 20 years.
Growing up in East Los Angeles in the 1970s, I never saw a family like mine on television, except portrayed as maids or farmworkers. And then Lupe came along and helped to change that.
Certainly she played her share of maids. She once confided that she was cast as a maid somewhere between 150 and 300 times. Typical Lupe: She was proud that she could give maids a sense of dignity and the respect they deserved through her portrayals.
As she established herself and her reputation as an actress, more and more different kinds of roles became available to her. Once she saw opportunities open up for her, she helped open opportunities for others. She used her celebrity, creativity and boundless energy to make a difference. That's when I really became a fan of hers.
Whatever the issue -- HIV/AIDS prevention; domestic violence prevention and legislation; women's health and employment; access to education; the rights of people with disabilities, especially individuals who are deaf and those with Down syndrome; representation of people of color in front of and behind the camera -- Lupe was there.
Few people know that, before she became an actress, Lupe was a social worker. She brought the skills she developed in that profession to all of her advocacy: She did her homework. She consulted experts. She rallied support and enlisted champions. She knew that every case is different and statistics are important, but behind them are people. She never complained. She always showed up.
As an actress and entertainer, she made us laugh, and she made us cry. As an advocate, she made us think and, more importantly, she made us do something. I will miss her.