Carmen Zapata

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Carmen Zapata
Carmen Zapata and Vito Scotti.cropped.JPG
Carmen Margarita Zapata

(1927-07-15)July 15, 1927
DiedJanuary 5, 2014(2014-01-05) (aged 86)
Years active1946–2002
Ron Friedman
(m. 1957; div. 1963)

Carmen Margarita Zapata (July 15, 1927 – January 5, 2014) often referred to as "The First Lady of the Hispanic Theater"[1] was an American actress best known for her role in the PBS bilingual children's program Villa Alegre. Zapata is also the co-founder and director of the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles. Zapata took an active part in the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s.[2] Zapata was born in New York City to Julio Zapata, a Mexican immigrant, and Ramona Roca, an Argentine immigrant.[3][4]

Acting career[edit]

Zapata made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Oklahoma! in 1946.[5] She appeared in over three hundred movies and shows, including Batman: The Animated Series, Married... with Children, Sister Act, and she was Carmen Castillo in Santa Barbara. One of her longest-running roles was on the bilingual children's program Villa Alegre, where for nine years she played the lead character, "Doña Luz."[6][7]

In 1972, Zapata co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee with actors Ricardo Montalbán, Edith Diaz, and Henry Darrow. She was also one of the original members of the Hispanic actors organization "Nosotros," which was begun by Ricardo Montalbán.[1] In 1973, she co-founded the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (BFA) with Cuban-born actress, playwright, and director Margarita Galban and Argentine-born award-winning set designer Estela Scarlata.

In 1976, Zapata joined Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., in starring roles in the 12-episode ABC situation comedy summer replacement series Viva Valdez, about a Mexican-American family living in East Los Angeles, California.[8]

In 1986, she and her writing partner, Michael Dewell, published translations for Federico García Lorca's dramatic trilogy. The title was published by Bantam Books and was part of her effort to bring Spanish language literature to English speakers.[1]


In 1983, Zapata was honored with the Humanitarian Crystal Award from Women in Film.[9] Zapata was also honored with a Hispanic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 for her career trajectory in the arts and for her work with the BFA.[10]

Zapata was nominated for an Emmy twice in her career, once as Best Supporting Actress for her role in a segment of Medical Center and once for her role in the film Carola.

In 1981, Zapata was part of a group of greater Los Angeles women honored by the Young Women's Christian Association with the Silver Achievement Award.

In 1983, Zapata was given the Ruben Salazar Award by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

In 1985, Zapata was named Woman of the Year by the Hispanic Women's Council.

In 1986, Zapata was the recipient of the Best Translation Award from the journal Dramalogue.[2]

Granted an honorary doctorate in human services from Sierra University.[1]

In 1991, she was among nine Californian artists, arts organizations, and patrons to receive the Governor's Award for the Arts.[1]

In 1999, Zapata was knighted by His Majesty Juan Carlos I, King of Spain and received El Lazo de Dama del Orden del Mérito Civil, the Civil Order of Merit.[11]

In 2003, Zapata received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[5]


Throughout her life, Zapata was involved in various charitable events including sitting on the board of the United Way, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, the KCET Community Advisory Board, the Boy Scouts of America, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the National Repertory Theatre Foundation, and member of the City of Los Angeles Mayor's Committee on the Arts, the California Arts Council's Ethnic Advisory Minority Panel, and many other organizations. She has also served as a panel member of the Expansion Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Los Angeles Special Olympics Events Committee, and other programs.[12][11][1] Zapata was a practicing Roman Catholic and a registered Democrat.[13]


Zapata died in Los Angeles on January 5, 2014, from heart disease; she was 86 years old.[5][12]


Year Title Role Notes
1969 Hail, Hero! Juana
197 2 Portnoy's Complaint Mrs. Harero Uncredited
1973 Bad Charleston Charlie Lottie
1973 Toke
1973 Carola Mireille TV film
1974 The Last Porno Flick Mama Theresa
1974 W Betty
1975 Boss Nigger Margarita
1976 I Will, I Will... for Now Maria
1977 Billy Jack Goes to Washington Minor Role Uncredited
1977 Telefon Nurse
1977 John Hus Mother of John Hus
1977 Emergency! Car Accident Victim S6E24 “All Night Long”
1978 Rabbit Test Madam Nundi
1979 Boulevard Nights Mrs. Landeros
1980 How to Beat the High Co$t of Living Mama Uncredited
1980 There Goes the Bride Mrs. Ramirez
1984 Vultures Elena Garcia-Lopez
1986 The Education of Allison Tate Teresa Aleman
1992 Sister Act Choir Nun #2
1993 Point of No Return Judge
1993 Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Choir Nun #2
1994 Por la Vida: Street Vending & the Criminalization of Latinos Narrator Voice
1994 Skins Roses
1996 The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca Lorca's Mother
2000 The Egg Plant Lady Rosa Vecino
2001 The Sleepy Time Gal Anna

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Latinas! : women of achievement. Telgen, Diane., Kamp, Jim. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. 1996. ISBN 978-0-7876-0883-5. OCLC 34514552.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ a b S., Meier, Matt (1997). Notable Latino Americans : a biographical dictionary. Franco Serri, Conchita., Garcia, Richard A., 1941-. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-585-38908-0. OCLC 49569798.
  3. ^ The Sacramento Bee, "Playing Against Type Long Cast In Stereotypical Mexican Roles, Carmen Zapata Has Found A Part That Fills Her Soul In Stc'S "Driving Miss Daisy"(September 11, 1990, Page E1); "She had been christened so in New York City daughter of a Mexican father and an Argentine mother"
  4. ^ Candelaria, Cordelia (January 1, 2004). Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-33210-4.
  5. ^ a b c Barnes, Mike (January 6, 2014). "Actress Carmen Zapata Dies at 86". The Hollywood Reporter.
  6. ^ Lowe Kilmer. "Celebrities" (column), Watertown Daily Times (New York), October 7, 2003, Lifestyles & Leisure section, page B2.
  7. ^ Matt S. Meier, Conchita Franco Serri, and Richard A. Garcia. Notable Latino Americans: A Biographical Dictionary, Westport, Conn. Greenwood Press, 1997, page 410: "Most important, in her role of Doña Luz she was, for nine years, the heart and soul of the Public Broadcasting System's bilingual program, 'Villa Alegre.'"
  8. ^ "Viva Valdez". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  9. ^ Baugh, S. L. (2012). Zapata, Carmen (Margarita) (1927–). In Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends (pp. [292]-293). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood. Retrieved from[dead link]
  10. ^ "The Paley Center for Media". The Paley Center for Media. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Telgen, Diane (1993). Notable Hispanic American Women, Volume 1. Gale / Cengage Learning. pp. 424. ISBN 978-0-8103-7578-9.
  12. ^ a b Manning, Sue (January 14, 2014). "Carmen Zapata". The Independent. p. 46. ProQuest 1476948633.
  13. ^ An Interview With Carmen Zapata, Skip E. Lowe, 1992

External links[edit]