Folklorist, academic teacher and administrator, novelist, poet, singer, activist. Américo Paredes Manzano (1915-1999) was born in Brownsville, Texas. His father, Justo Paredes Cisneros, a rancher whose family had settled north of the Rio Grande around 1749, and his mother, born Clotilde Manzano Vidal, taught their eight children to love and respect the history and folklore of the Lower Rio Grande Border region.
As a youth, Américo Paredes studied guitar and piano, learned Border folk songs, and wrote poetry in Spanish and English. While a student at Brownsville High School, he won a statewide poetry contest and aspired to teach literature at the University of Texas at Austin. He published his poetry in San Antonio’s La Prensa and worked as a proofreader and writer at the Brownsville Herald while attending Brownsville Junior College. After earning his degree (1936), he reported and wrote features on folklore for the Herald, published a volume of his poetry in Spanish, and wrote George Washington Gómez, an unpublished English-language novel about Mexican American life in Brownsville. He pursued his love of music by hosting a Brownsville radio program and performing publicly. His 1939 marriage to singer Consuelo (Chelo) Silva was brief, though the couple had a son, Américo, Junior.
During the early years of the Second World War, Paredes worked in Brownsville for the war effort, resigning to be drafted in 1944. The U.S. Army sent him to occupied Japan to report for its newspaper, Stars and Stripes . Paredes stayed in Asia until 1950, writing and editing Army publications, contributing a column to El Universal in Mexico City, and working in public relations for the American Red Cross. In 1948, he married Amelia Sidzu Nagamine (1921-1999), a Japanese-Uruguayan woman raised in Mexico and South America.
Paredes returned to Texas with his wife in 1950, and, assisted by the G. I. Bill, entered the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Paredes concentrated on the study of folklore in the English Department, completing his baccalaureate (summa cum laude) in 1951, and his Masters degree in 1953. In 1956, at age 40, he earned his UT doctorate in English and Spanish. While establishing himself as a scholar of Border folklore, Paredes continued to write fiction. As a graduate student, he won prizes for a novel and a short story. Two of his stories, “Over the Waves Is Out” (published 1953) and “The Hammon and the Beans” (published 1963) reached wide audiences through anthology and textbook reprints.
Paredes’s Ph.D. dissertation concerned corridos, or narrative ballads, about Gregorio Cortez, a Mexican American whose conflict with Texas Rangers resulted in strikingly different accounts in Texas-Mexican folk songs and histories written by Anglo Texans. Paredes’s work encompassed not only the corridos’ formal aspects, but also Cortez’s life and the cultural differences reflected in the descriptions of it. The University of Texas Press published a revised form of the dissertation as “With His Pistol in His Hand” in 1958. Over the next four decades, Paredes produced a series of academic books and articles, primarily on folk song and poetry, which transformed scholars’ understanding of the American Southwest and influenced folklorists internationally.
After completing his doctorate, Paredes taught briefly in El Paso. The UT English Department hired him back in 1958, making him one of the few Mexican Americans on the faculty in Austin. He taught courses on literature, creative writing, composition, and folklore, before accepting a half-time appointment in the UT Anthropology Department in 1966. Paredes initiated the interdisciplinary graduate Folklore major in the English and Anthropology Departments (1967), and was the first Director of the Center for Intercultural Studies in Folklore and Oral History (1967-1970). He designed the new program’s core graduate course and taught it regularly, as well as courses on Mexican-American culture and folklore. Paredes retired from full-time UT faculty status in 1984 but continued to teach for several years.
In addition to establishing the Folklore Center, Paredes led the movement to create a formal program in Mexican American Studies at UT. He served as Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies and head of the new, interdisciplinary Mexican American Studies program (1970-1972), with which he remained closely involved for years. Like the UT Folklore program, the UT Center for Mexican American Studies earned an outstanding reputation, and many of Paredes’s students had distinguished careers. Through his teaching, scholarship, and example as a public intellectual, Paredes had a profound influence both within the academy and beyond. Known personally for his seriousness, dignity, and wit, he received the respectful honorific, “Don Américo.”
Paredes also earned numerous formal distinctions, such as the first endowed professorship in his discipline (1983) and an annual lecture series named in his honor (begun 1987) at UT, a Guggenheim fellowship (1962), the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1989), and the Order of the Aztec Eagle ( Aguila Azteca ), the highest honor bestowed on foreign nationals by the government of Mexico (1991). The Austin Independent School District named a new middle school after Paredes in 1998. Among the scholarly groups bestowing honors upon him were the American Folklore Society, the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, the Sociedad Folklórica de México, and the Western Literature Association.
In the 1990s, Paredes fulfilled his early promise as an author of fiction and poetry. George Washington Gómez finally saw print, as did his prize-winning novel from 1955, The Shadow, and collections of early poetry and short stories. The new availability of Paredes’s writing from the 1930s led scholars to revise their understanding of Mexican-American literary history. As younger musical artists and the listening public renewed their appreciation of traditional Border music, Paredes also gained popular recognition for his knowledge of Mexican and tejano song. By the end of his life, Paredes had achieved high distinctions in his many roles as a scholar, teacher, activist, and creative artist.
Américo Paredes acknowledged the contribution of his private partnership with Amelia Paredes to his professional accomplishments. The couple had three children, Alan, Vicente, and Julia; grandchildren; and great-grandchildren. Amelia Paredes managed the household, and, helping those with the same condition as her daughter, was a prominent advocate for the rights of the developmentally disabled in Texas. Américo Paredes passed away in Austin on Cinco de Mayo, 1999, followed in July by Amelia Paredes.
From the guide to the Américo Paredes Papers 51244413., 1886-1999, bulk 1931-1999, (Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)
|creatorOf||Américo Paredes Papers 51244413., 1886-1999, bulk 1931-1999||Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin|
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Lower Rio Grande Valley (Tex.).|
|Mexican Americans in literature|
|American poetry--Mexican American authors|
|Japan--History--Allied occupation, 1945-1952--Personal narratives|
|Decimas, Mexican--History and criticism|
|Folk music--Mexican American Border Region|
|Corridos--Mexican--American Border region|
|Journal of American Folklore|
|Folklore--Study and teaching|
|Mexican Americans--Texas--Intellectual life|
|Mexican Americans--Study and teaching (Higher)|