"Mestizo City" Creator Henry Muñoz Talks Art, Politics and Robert Rodriguez

Jarritos, art, Breakfast Tacos at Tiffani's, and Robert Rodriguez's Chingon. Can Basel week get any better?

Representing the "vibrant and varied" influence Latino culture has played in the United States, Henry Muñoz's 6,700-square-foot, site-specific interactive art instillation, Mestizo City, opens tonight in Miami's Design District.

But the San Antonio-based CEO of Kell Muñoz Architects, designer, and activist started championing the "intermarriage" of cultures when he was a kid.

"Both of my parents were labor leaders during the prime of the labor union movement in the United States," the 52-year-old tells New Times over breakfast at the Setai. "I grew up on picket lines, marched with the farm workers. In fact, one of my great possessions is a picket sign that I carried when I was five-years-old for the United Farm Workers of Texas. It read: 'Texas needs $1.25 minimum wage.'"

Today, the minimum wage in Texas is $7.25. And Muñoz is one of the United States' most influential Latino visionaries.

"I always tell Henry, 'You continued your dad's legacy in a different way,'" says Kell Muñoz Architects Director of Marketing, Theresa Wyatt. "In a nicer suit."

As National Chairman of the Futuro Fund, Muñoz united Latinos across the country and rallied to secure Barack Obama's re-election.

He served as vice chairman of the Smithsonian National Board and currently serves as chairman emeritus of the Smithsonian National Latino Board. And his design firm, which was recently selected to design a new federal courthouse in San Antonio, is the largest minority-owned firm in Texas.

And at the core of each project: Muñoz's Mestizo philosophy.

"Every community is different," he says. "One distinct difference between Miami and the place where I live is that the Spanish language is so prevalent here. My friends who come from Miami to San Antonio are always so frustrated by the fact we just don't speak Spanish on a daily basis.

"But what I do find the same everywhere I go is this concept of Mestiza, that there is a layer, a blending, an intermarriage."

That's precisely what Mestizo City is about.

"One of the things that you'll see there is that you have to cross over between this obsession of global consumerism and culture to get back to the tribalism, the unique identity," he says.

"In many ways, that's why I wanted to be here at Design Miami/ and Art Basel. When you have an opportunity to get a few thousand people in one place and expose them even to a modest idea, maybe people will begin to feel inspired at this moment to say something."

One of the mestizo artists hoping to inspire this week at Mestizo City is Muñoz's friend Robert Rodriguez. Together with his band, Chingon, the Machete director will perform a free concert on Saturday night across the street from the instillation.

"We really wanted [Rodriguez] to do something with film for Barack Obama, but it never worked out because he's doing this movie with Lady Gaga and all of these famous people," Muñoz says. "So we were really happy when he found a moment to come down to Art Basel and Design Miami/, and be a part of this instillation with his band, EL Chingon."

Mestizo City is located at 81 NE 40th St. and is open to the public Friday, December 7 and Saturday, December 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. El Chingon plays Saturday at 9 p.m.

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