Photo courtesy of the Center for Mexican American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Mexican American Folklorist, Educator, Writer, Poet, and Musician
Born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, Dr. Américo Paredes was an accomplished ethnographer, musician, poet, singer, novelist, cultural critic, journalist, activist, folklorist, and prolific scholar. Paredes received an upbringing that positioned him as a fully bicultural, bilingual, and well-educated individual, “bien educado,” learning an English curriculum in school and being taught Spanish at home. Upon graduating from Brownsville Junior College in 1936 he worked as a journalist for fourteen years, including on special assignment in Japan. He returned to the United States in 1950 to pursue his education and within six years, Paredes earned three degrees from the University of Texas at Austin: a BA in English and Philosophy and an MA and PhD in English (Folklore) and Spanish. In 1957, Paredes joined the faculty in English and Anthropology at the University of Texas—becoming one of a handful of faculty of color on that campus—and mentored many students. He taught there until his retirement more than 30 years later.
Growing up along the Texas-Mexico border, Dr. Paredes came to perceive the border as a site of cultural convergence, conflict, and creativity. His constant engagement with borders allowed him to develop a critical double vision that generated copious innovative theoretical insights, many of which are foundational to current critiques of, and innovations in, anthropological and folkloristic theory and practice. Among Dr. Paredes’ contributions is the concept of “greater Mexico” referring to the Mexican diaspora, allowing the Southwest US and other areas to view themselves as a substantial, legitimate, and growing, part of the mexicanidad. Equally important, Paredes helped establish the performance approach to folklore studies, stressing the importance of the need to interpret folklore within the contexts in which it was performed. Paredes, as one of the first native anthropologists, forcefully demonstrated that academia was an important site for political intervention and activism, and his engaged scholarship challenged the prevailing and deeply entrenched notion of scholarly objectivity. He underscored the value of folklore as a record of Mexican Americans’ long struggles to preserve their identities and affirm their human rights as a form of cultural memories.
Dr. Paredes was elected a Fellow of AFS and received numerous other honors including the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989. In 1991, he was awarded the Orden del Aguila Azteca, the highest honor awarded by Mexico to recognize foreigners for their humanitarian services and for their efforts to preserve Mexican culture. Among his acclaimed works are:
A Texas Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border (1976)
“With His Pistol in His Hand:” A Border Ballad and its Hero ( 1971)