Emmy-Nominated Actress Carmen Zapata Dies At 86

Emmy-nominated actress, educator, and minority rights advocate Carmen Zapata died Sunday of heart problems. She was 86.

Zapata died in her Van Nuys-area home, according to Luis Vela, marketing manager for the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles.

“She was an inspiration for me,” Vela said. “She taught me that art is the key to resolving differences in the community.” He also said that Zapata said she wanted to be remembered as an educator.

Born in New York City to a Mexican father and Argentine mother, Carmen Zapata co-founded the Bilingual Foundation in 1973 with Cuban-born actress and playwright Margarita Galban and Argentine-born set designer Estela Scarlata. The foundation produces four plays a year that alternate in English and Spanish. Some of the shows are taken on the road by production companies.

Zapata also co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee with Ricardo Montalban, Edith Diaz, and Henry Darrow in 1972. The committee changed its name to the Ethnic Equal Opportunities Committee a decade later.

Zapata had been in over one hundred movies and shows, including Sister Act, Married… with Children, and Batman: The Animated Series. One of her longest-running roles was on the bilingual children’s program Villa Allegre. Zapata played the lead character, Dona Luz, for nine years.

The show won a Peabody Award and was the first national bilingual program in the country. Zapata earned Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a segment of Medical Center and Carola on Hollywood TV Theatre. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.

Luis Vela said he last Carmen Zapata on Christmas Eve.

“Everyone who worked with her felt she had created something really important and was making our community a better place. She was emphatic that what we were doing at the foundation was more important than personal recognition.”

Vela said Zapata wasn’t working on any one project when she died, but that she was supervising and approving projects that were presented to her.