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Lupe Ontiveros remembered as 'pioneer' at memorial service

August 03, 2012|By Danielle Paquette
  • Lupe Ontiveros' sons Elias, Alejandro and Nicolas enter the funeral mass for their mother at Saint Hilary Church in Pico Rivera.
Lupe Ontiveros' sons Elias, Alejandro and Nicolas enter the funeral… (Christina House/For The…)

Every pew at Saint Hilary Church of Eternal Adoration in Pico Rivera was filled Friday morning for the memorial service of actress-activist Guadalupe “Lupe” Ontiveros, who died July 26 at 69.

Inside the white brick walls of the church, which Ontiveros attended for more than 30 years, her former “Desperate Housewives” castmate Eva Longoria, stepped behind a podium.

“But the just man, though he die early, shall be at rest,” Longoria said, voice wavering, reading from the Bible. “For the age that is honorable comes not with the passing of time, nor can it be measured in terms of years.”

Ontiveros’ family, friends, former costars, political activists and the mayors of Los Angeles and Pico Rivera watched quietly. Until the moment when Longoria began the first reading, the building had buzzed with chatter and laughter, a lively exchange of memories.

In addition to her work in television and film, Ontiveros was a member of the Los Angeles theater community and a founder of the Latino Theater Company.

Churchgoers signed Ontiveros’ portrait propped outside the doors, scrawling personal messages in black Sharpie:

“Thank you for all the joy you brought.”
“Lupita por vida!”
“Lupe, I will never forget that vase you gave me.”

Labor leader, civil rights activist and close friend Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers Assn., called Ontiveros a pioneer.

“She took roles many people would have turned down, and she hung in there, trying to break the ceiling there for Latinos in the industry, the media industry,” Huerta said. “And she gave back to the community. Whatever she was asked to do, I don’t care what it was, she was always there. You didn’t have to beg her, didn’t have to go through three PR people to get to her. Everything she did, she brought joy.”

City Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who said she had known Ontiveros “for decades,” was initially starstruck by the actress who famously played mothers, mentors and maids.

“When I really got to know her, I was so impressed with the personal activism she felt inside of her,” Molina said, referencing Ontiveros’ longtime involvement with the Latino Theater Company, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “At the end of the day, it was something she felt personally and passionately about. We’re going to miss her tremendously.”

Sol Castillo, 38, the son of “Zoot Suit” star Enrique Castillo, met Ontiveros while she acted alongside his father in the play by Luis Valdez, who also attended the funeral.

“She was a feisty one,” Castillo said, laughing. “Lupe was everything to everybody. She was a mother, a lover, a friend, a wife, a sister — she was amazing, always greeted everyone with love. Doesn’t matter how many years went by, she always greeted everyone with love.”

After a series of readings and religious songs performed by a Mariachi band, Rev. Joshua Lee delivered a eulogy. Ontiveros never forgot her roots, he said. She maintained a strong sense of faith, exuded love, set an example for the community and all who watched her work, listened to her interviews.

“Lupe has, in her own way, sewn seeds far and wide,” Lee said. “She has sewn them into each and every one of your hearts — and so many more beyond. Now, it’s up to you what you do with the gift.”

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