Emmy-nominated actress Carmen Zapata, who began a foundation to promote Hispanic writers, was once asked how she wanted to be remembered.

"I prefer people remember us as educators,” she told 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.”

Zapata died of heart problems Sunday at her Van Nuys-area, Los Angeles home. She was 86.

Zapata started her career in 1945 in the Broadway musical "Oklahoma" and went on to perform in "Bells Are Ringing," ''Guys and Dolls" and many plays.

Her movie credits include "Sister Act," ''Gang Boys" and "Carola." She also appeared in dozens of television series, including nine seasons on the PBS bilingual children's show, "Villa Alegre."

Zapata had continuing TV roles in "The Man and the City" and "The New Dick Van Dyke Show." She sang in several other musicals, including "Bloomer Girl." ''No Strings," ''Show Boat," ''Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" and "Funny Girl."

Born in New York City of Mexican-Argentinean descent, Zapata joined forces with Cuban-born actress, playwright and director Margarita Galban to found the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in 1973.

The organization produces four plays a year that are presented at its 99-seat theater. Productions alternate in English and Spanish, with some shows taken on the road by production companies.

Zapata collected Emmy nominations for best supporting actress in a segment of "Medical Center" and for "Carola" on "Hollywood TV Theatre."

Vela said he last saw Zapata on Christmas Eve.

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

She was not working on any one project when she died, Vela said, but was supervising and approving projects being presented to her.

Funeral and service arrangements are being finalized.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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