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Friends and neighbors remember Latina Valley Girl Carmen Zapata

Friends and neighbors in Van Nuys, Calif. remember fondly the fun-loving, always-hospitable Carmen Zapata, who died on Sunday at her home at the age of 86. She lived in her house on Oxnard Street for nearly half a century.

Carmen Zapata dies in Van Nuys
Carmen Zapata dies in Van NuysGetty Images and publicity stills
Actress Carmen Zapata and Nosotros President Jerry Velasco attend the Nosotros 31st Golden Eagle Awards July 27, 2001 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA.
Actress Carmen Zapata and Nosotros President Jerry Velasco attend the Nosotros 31st Golden Eagle Awards July 27, 2001 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA.Photo by Alexander Sibaja/Getty Images

"Rest in Peace Carman Zapata you're a Valley Girl at heart like me," said Julie Ann Paige, who lived nearby.

"I loved 'Villa Allegre' growing up! RIP"tweeted another neighbor/fan Melissa d'Arabian, mentioning one of the Latina actresses's first jobs on a bilingual children's show. (She was the mayor on the show for nine seasons.)

Zapata, who filmed "Sister Act" and the sequel with Whoopi Goldberg at the local Hollywood United Methodist Church (the one with the big red ribbon on it), is also known for being a semi-regular on the NBC soap Santa Barbara and she played the matriarch on Viva Valdez, a 1976 ABC summer sitcom.

Actress Diana B. took it hard, writing: "Carmen Zapata gave a lot of us young up and coming Latinos our start. I got my Actors Equity working for her."

Zapata had been suffering from a heart condition.

She co-founded the Los Angeles’ Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in 1973 and fostered Latino culture in the arts.

In a release from MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the activists say:

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.”ess Carmen Zapata died Sunday night at her home in Van Nuys. She was 86.

According to her organization, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, Zapata had been dealing with an illness and a heart condition for some time.

Zapata worked to preserve Latin American culture in our community, but she was also an actress who took on many roles.

In her career, Zapata did Broadway, movies and television. She appeared on numerous TV shows, including "Bonanza," "The Bold Ones," "Marcus Welby, M.D." and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." She's also known for her appearance on the soap opera, "Santa Barbara," as well as her role as one of the choir nuns in the "Sister Act" movies.

Her resume was as long as her smile was bright. During her career, good roles didn't always come easy for a Latina in show business. But Zapata worked hard to change that.

She lived locally for more than four decades and worked with many local theaters as well. She will be sorely missed.