The Cultural Activist

A leader in Latino art and architecture discovers his life's passion in the city's barrios.
Most San Antonians appreciate a good puffy taco. It is a safe bet, however, that cultural activist Henry Muñoz III appreciates them more than most. It was his quest to find the perfect puffy taco that led him to discover his life's work. Muñoz was just 29 when he was asked to serve as the first minority transportation commissioner in Texas under then-Governor. Ann Richards. "I really think that experience - the good and the bad - shaped me more than anything I've ever done," he says.

That's a significant statement from a man famous in San Antonio for his political activism and acumen, who has played major roles in some of the city's most ambitious and progressive projects. He brought National Public Radio to San Antonio and served as a founding chairmen of the Alameda National Center for Latino Arts and Culture - the Smithsonian Institution's first formal affiliate outside Washington, D.C.

Following his stint with the Transportation Commission, Muñoz returned to San Antonio; he admits he was a bit lost. "I started to pray for something to happen that would allow me to be who I really was," he recalls. "I decided I was going to be quiet and wait, and then somehow the answer would present itself."

The answer arrived, but not until many years later. Muñoz was already a partner and president of Kell Muñoz Architects Inc. when he and a friend went in search of the city's best puffy taco. During those weekly treks to the barrios, Muñoz accidentally discovered his passion. "I started looking around at the things that I saw in my own city that I thought were beautiful that I didn't think people particularly understood, and it had to do with the cultural imprint of Latinos in this country," he says.

That sensitivity to the city's unique culture prompted Muñoz to design a type of architecture he calls Mestizo Regionalism. "I just knew that I finally found what I was supposed to be about, and it was right here all the time. I just didn't know it," he says. The design style is described on Muñoz's web site as a blending of the "unique history, traditions and cultural evolution of the people of the Texas/Mexico borderlands."

"It is really a culturally based architecture that is more about the voice of the people that we're working with," Muñoz explains. Locally, Muñoz's Mestizo Regionalism can be found in the Market Square building that houses the Museo Alameda; other examples can be found throughout the state and his unique style has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects.

The elusive puffy taco is still out there, though Muñoz has long since abandoned the search. As for what his future holds, Muñoz plans to design buildings that impact communities while continuing to advocate for Latino causes in his own way. "there is a time for activism, no question about it," he states. "There is a time for protest and a time for diplomacy, and there's a time for access. It's really important for the Latino community of the United States to have had the ability to do it all."