Alma Awards recognize under-the-radar thesps

When National Council of La Raza president and CEO Janet Murguia made the announcement on July 27 that this year’s Alma Awards had been expanded to pay tribute to the 2008 achievements of “a record number of Latino performers,” she thrust into the spotlight a trio of Latino actors who have made their mark on mainstream television for more than a quarter of a century without kudos from the Emmys or the Golden Globes.

Miguel Sandoval (“Medium”) recalls his first interview with a casting director when he arrived in Hollywood in 1982. “He told me that my career would be restricted to two roles: gardeners and gangbangers. After talking to me awhile, he said I just might have a chance as a ‘crossover.’ I didn’t even know what ‘crossover’ meant. I came from a theater background where I could play anybody. I once portrayed Erich von Stroheim on stage.”

Lupe Ontiveros (“Reaper”) made her professional television debut playing a maid on a 1976 episode of “Charlie’s Angels.”

“I have been a maid on screen about 300 times and have portrayed a whole lot of sympathetic grandmothers. I have been proud to play them. It has been my responsibility to make them memorable,” says the actress. In fact, Ontiveros has been memorable enough to nab series regular/recurring roles on “Desperate Housewives,” “Greetings From Tucson” and “Veronica’s Closet.”

Tony Plana (“Ugly Betty”) has the distinction of being the patriarch on two prominent Latino-based TV series: ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and Showtime’s “Resurrection Boulevard.”

“I have the look,” the Cuban-born actor affirms. “I play fathers very well.” Plana has enjoyed an ethnically varied career since he made his 1978 TV debut on “What’s Happening?” “I have played my share of laborers and I have portrayed the U.S. Secretary of State (‘West Wing’). I am deeply honored to be recognized by the Almas.”

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