Zapata fostered Latino culture in Los Angeles as co-founder of Bilingual Foundation of the Arts

LOS ANGELES, CA - MALDEF mourns the loss of Carmen Zapata, an accomplished character actress on TV, film and the stage, MALDEF honoree, and a leading force in showcasing Latino culture in Los Angeles. Ms. Zapata, 86, died Sunday at her home in Van Nuys after complications from heart failure.

In a career spanning more than six decades, Carmen Zapata was one of the most respected and diversified Hispanic-American figures in the arts. Zapata appeared on dozens of other TV shows during her six-decade career, including The Bold Ones, Bonanza, Marcus Welby, M.D., Medical Center, Adam-12, Mod Squad, The Rookies, The Streets of San Francisco, McMillan and Wife, Chico and the Man, Falcon Crest, Married With Children, L.A. Law and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Zapata notably appeared as one of the choir nuns in Sister Act (1992) as well as its sequel. She also held a regular role on Santa Barbara, a soap opera on NBC and also played the matriarch on Viva Valdez, a 1976 ABC summer sitcom which was one of the first prime-time sitcoms to center around a Latino family. She also starred as the mayor on the PBS bilingual children's show Villa Alegre for nine seasons.

Ms. Zapata founded the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts with Cuban-born actress, playwright and director Margarita Galban. For 38 years, the foundation's Spanish-language theatrical productions have introduced Hispanic culture to the English-speaking crowd, while promoting cultural pride in its Spanish-speaking audiences. The Foundation introduced actors Andy Garcia and Elizabeth Peña in its early days at the Inner City Cultural Center. The group's programs included Teatro Para Los Ninos (Theater for Children), Teatro Para Los Jovenes (Theater for Youth) and the Reader's Theater for new playwright development.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "Carmen Zapata was an icon familiar to all Latinos, including children, seeking to see themselves represented in powerful form on the television screen. Although there is still much progress to be made in securing adequate Latino representation in media, Carmen Zapata made indelible contributions to our ultimate success in that regard. She will be greatly missed."

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund