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Actress Elizabeth Pena, known for her roles in La Bamba, The Incredibles, Modern Family, and Rush Hour died on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

She was 55-years-old.

Pena died of natural causes after a brief illness, according to her manager, Gina Rugolo.

The actress, who spent a part of her childhood in Cuba, was born Sept. 23, 1959, in Elizabeth, N.J. to Mario, her director/actor father, and Estella Margarita, a producer and arts administrator. Throughout her career, she strived to portray the Latin community in an honest and accurate light —  her dedication no doubt changed the landscape for minorities in Hollywood.

From the LA Times:

When Peña was filming “Lone Star,” the 1996 John Sayles film set on the Texas-Mexico border, she worked hard to portray her schoolteacher character properly.

“In the United States, all Spanish-speaking people are lumped into one category,” Peña said in a 1996 interview with the Dallas Morning News. “But we’re all so different. Argentinians are completely different from Mexicans. Mexicans are completely different from Cubans. Cubans are completely different from people from Paraguay and Uruguay.”

Peña spent time on both sides of the border absorbing the atmosphere. “I recorded people’s voices to get the proper inflection,” she said.

“I crossed the border a whole bunch to collect a lot of history. I would sit for hours looking at the women, how they dressed. I talked to people. I hung out. I shopped at the stores to see what kind of clothing was there and what food was eaten.”

The actress is survived by her husband, Hans Rolla; her daughter, Fiona; her son, Kaelan, and her mother and sister. Our condolences to Pena’s family and friends.


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