Margaret (or Margarita) Muñoz Simon, journalist, radio disc jockey, and social activist, grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, and attended early schooling in Piedras Negras, Mexico. She moved to the city of Austin about 1942 with her husband Henry Muñoz, a linotypist, and they established a Spanish-language newspaper, El Democrata. During World War II, while Henry enlisted in the military and was stationed in San Francisco, California, Margaret continued their work on El Democrata. She also volunteered in her neighborhood association which later influenced her efforts in petitioning the construction of affordable housing in East Austin.
Margaret Muñoz befriended some of the other local military wives, including Maj. Vann Kennedy’s wife, Mary, who was the associate editor of The State Observer in 1943. The women kept each other company while their husbands were away, and Margaret helped care for Mary’s mother. Through daily conversation, Margaret Muñoz absorbed English from Mary Kennedy and also tutored her in Spanish.
After the war, Margaret Muñoz continued her work with El Democrata until it ceased publication in 1950. At some point she wed her second husband, Hugo Simon. In the 1950s Margaret Muñoz Simon began her work as a radio announcer and maintained this career into the 1980s. The city of Austin and its mayor Ron Mullen (in 1983) credited her as the “first Mexican American woman disc jockey in the Austin area.” She worked at Austin radio station KTXN and later at KMXX.
Throughout her life, Margaret Muñoz Simon was very active in promoting civil rights and cultural awareness in the Tejano community. She was a founding member of the Austin branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and helped organize chapters of LULAC for young adults in nearby cities, including a chapter in the Bastrop prison. She wrote manuscripts, assisted in fundraising efforts, corresponded with members in the community, and made introductions at special events and ceremonies (birthdays, graduations, weddings etc). She utilized mass radio communication to speak against injustice in Austin’s Latin American community and acquainted herself with local government figures to inform Latino American citizens of structural discrimination and encouraged them to engage in their civic involvement by attending LULAC events. With the help of local doctors, lawyers, and businesses, Margaret Muñoz Simon hosted youth events at the Pan-American Recreation Center and distributed the money raised for future events and for the maintenance of LULAC’s existing programs.
Going back to 1942, she organized the first Diez y Sies de Septiembre (the day which marks the beginning of the war for Mexico’s Independence from Spain) festival in Austin and later became an active member in the Fiestas Patrias Committee. She became the secretary of the Fiestas Patrias Committee and took pride in the events they arranged. She introduced and organized new contests for the best tamales, menudo, etc., and also organized a city queen contest as a means to involve the youth in safe community parties which promoted cultural traditions and values.
During the 1960s Simon was a paying member of the American G.I. Forum and created a ladies auxiliary branch in Austin. She was also active in the VIVA Johnson Club to promote the election of Lyndon Johnson for president. In 1964 she helped establish the Travis County chapter of the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO) which helped Mexican Americans register to vote. PASSO successfully registered thousands of Latino citizens.
Simon and other local activist group members formed the Economic Development Study Committee, which was the first to run a successful economic development report, in 1969, for the neighborhoods in South and East Austin. Knowing that many other organizations in existence had failed to address neighborhood issues, Simon and her peers, with first-hand knowledge, came together to evaluate East Austin to identify major economic issues. Her association with the committee helped her understand the difficult issues children faced while having to receive their education in the midst of crime and impoverishment. She also stressed, “Lessons [were] also learned in the home.” She said, “School is important because children are there to learn the lessons that will take them to the future. But the base is the home. The mother, from early childhood, has to inculcate in the child those values as best she can. And from that springs the ladies and gentlemen.” On behalf of her beliefs, she initiated the first bilingual Parent Teacher Leadership Procedure Course.
By the early 1970s she helped develop the Model Cities program which addressed the location of elementary schools and their surrounding communities. Simon proposed that the East First Neighborhood Center be remodeled to create a safe after-school environment for the children. In 1972 she became involved with the Austin Chicano Cultural Center and was recognized for her outstanding work toward the celebration of Hispanic culture. Within the same year, she began working on a variety of petitions for the elderly community in Austin. By 1974 she worked for Service, Employment, Redevleopment-Jobs for Progress, Incorporated, (SER) to serve the Mexican American community. Through SER, Simon became known for her volunteer work at the Mexican American Cultural Center. In 1975 she received the “Outstanding Woman in Communication” recognition for her work in the Mexican American Business and Professional Women of Austin (MABPWA), of which she was a charter member. Around that time, she also volunteered for Image de Austin, an organization that specialized in the Mexican American community’s reconstruction.
In 1980 Margaret Muñoz Simon was recognized for her years of work and love for Latin American history and tradition by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. As she grew older and found it difficult to stay mobile, she began to advocate new transportation laws that would help increase the transit of elderly people. In 1981 she started the Retired Senior Volunteer Program which consisted of community members who had participated in civil responsibilities for a majority of their lives. Throughout her career, she received numerous certificates of merit and other honors from such organizations as the American G.I. Forum, Catholic War Veterans, and Parks and Recreation Department of Austin. Austin mayor Ron Mullen proclaimed September 16, 1983, to be “Margarita Muñoz Simon Day” in recognition of her many accomplishments for Mexican Americans in the community. She remained active and took up new projects, such as volunteering for the Lena Guerrero campaign in 1984. During the 1980s Simon wrote columns for the Austin Light, an East Austin periodical. In the 1990s she was a Sunday commentator on KELG radio in Austin.
In 1994, four years before Simon passed away, her house was damaged in a flood. She had no place to live and did not seek help; yet in acknowledging her hard work and pride, the MABPWA created the Margarita Simon Community Fund which helped raise money for her hardship. The MABPWA maintained the fund to furnish “emergency relief funds for Hispanic individuals and families in circumstances requiring immediate assistance.” Margaret Muñoz Simon died in Austin on September 8, 1998. She was buried in Assumption Cemetery in that city.