September 3, 1915-May 5, 1999
Genre(s): FICTION; NOVELS; POETRY; MYTHOLOGY/FOLKLORE; ESSAYS
Table of Contents:
Biographical and Critical Essay
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS-- UNCOLLECTED
Américo Paredes Manzano was born in Brownsville, Texas, on 3 September 1915 to Justo and Clotilde Manzano-Vidal Paredes. His paternal ancestors had settled in that area in the eighteenth century when it was part of the Spanish province of Nuevo Santander. Paredes graduated from Brownsville High School and began his higher education at the local community college. His early poetry appeared between 1936 and 1940 in "Los lunes literarios" (Literary Mondays), a literary section of La Prensa of San Antonio, and in the Brownsville Herald, which published his articles and poetry in both the English and the Spanish versions of its issues. In addition to his writing activities Paredes spent many of his early years studying music, namely piano and guitar techniques, until the onset of World War II, when he was sent overseas. He became a reporter for Stars and Stripes in Japan and served as administrator for the international Red Cross in China and Manchuria. Paredes has married twice, to Consuelo Silva in 1939 and to Amelia Sidzu Nagamine in 1948. He has four children, Américo Jr., Alan, Vicente, and Julia.
In 1951 Paredes obtained a B.A. degree in English and philosophy at the University of Texas and received an M.A. at that institution in 1953. In 1956 he completed his doctorate in English (specializing in folklore) and Spanish, and he joined the English faculty of the University of Texas at Austin in 1957. Paredes was involved in the creation and organization of significant innovative programs at the university, including the organization of folklore archives in 1957 and the creation of the Mexican American Studies Program in 1970. He served as head of the latter and director of the Center for Mexican American Studies between 1970 and 1972.
Paredes began his career in creative writing with the publication of a volume of lyric poetry, Cantos de adolescencia (Songs of Adolescence, 1937), when he was twenty-two years old. The poetic voice in the collection is that of an adolescent whose existence as a Hispanic in an Anglo American world compels him to treasure his ancestral roots. He says in the prologue that he began to write poetry at the age of fifteen but composed his verse exclusively in English at that time, the result of his early formal education carried out strictly in the English language. Beginning in 1932, however, he made a conscious effort to convey his innermost feelings in his mother tongue.
Cantos de adolescencia is divided into nine sections: "La lira patriótica" (The Patriotic Lyre), "La música" (Music), "La naturaleza" (Nature), "La comedia del amor" (The Comedy of Love), "La tragedia del amor" (The Tragedy of Love), "In Memoriam," "La voz rebelde" (The Rebellious Voice), "Décimas" (Spanish stanzas of ten octosyllabic lines), and "L'envoi" (verses placed at the end of a ballad in praise of someone). The volume includes sixty-one poems plus "Décimas" and the final poem that serves as "L'envoi." One of the initial poems is a hymn dedicated to Mexico and its nature. It consists of two stanzas each having five hendecasyllabic verses in combination with one heptasyllabic line. The first stanza reads:
The poet achieves harmony and a pleasant rhythm in this poem through the use of consonance and the repetition of the term canten (sing), which gives the entire poem its vocative tone.
There are also well-conceived love poems in the volume, including some that allude to the celebrated romantic Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, whose rimas (poems) seem to have had a profound impact on young Paredes, as they did on many youths of Spain and Latin America. One of Paredes's rimas alludes directly to Bécquer's rima 23:
Paredes concludes his rima, however, with a slight touch of humor when his poetic persona admits that he has no worlds to give away and least of all skies:
Although Cantos de adolescencia was the first sign of Paredes's creative talent, the work that brought him fame is "With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958). The book inspired a movie adaptation, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, which aired on PBS on 29 June 1982. Paredes dedicated the book to the memory of his father and to all the old men he remembered from his childhood who sat around on summer nights and told about border struggles. As Paredes explains in the introduction, the book "is an account of the life of a man, of the way that songs and legends grew up about his name, and of the people who produced the songs, the legends, and the man. It is also the story of a ballad, 'El corrido de Gregorio Cortez,' of its development out of actual events, and of the folk traditions from which it sprang." Paredes sets for himself the task of discussing all facets of the story of Gregorio Cortez in this book, and in the process he produces a pioneering study on Mexican American folklore, the genesis of which he finds in a prevailing cultural and sociopolitical conflict between Hispanic Americans and Anglos.
After examining court records and conducting a series of interviews, including talks with Valeriano Cortez, a son of Gregorio Cortez, Paredes reconstructed Cortez's tragic story. He was born on 22 June 1875 "on a ranch between Matamoros and Reynosa on the Mexican side of the Border." He and his brother Romaldo were farming a piece of rented land near Kenedy in Karnes County, Texas, when his altercation with the law took place. Sheriff Morris and two deputies rode to Cortez's place in pursuit of a horse thief. Since the sheriff spoke no Spanish, he relied on one of his deputies for translation. The translator was not sufficiently proficient in Spanish, however, and because of one or more linguistic errors that led to misunderstandings, the sheriff tried to arrest Cortez and shot his brother. Cortez shot and killed the sheriff in self-defense and then fled, knowing that he would not get a fair trial in that region of Texas. For ten days hundreds of men, including sheriffs, deputies, Texas Rangers, and several posses, looked for him. No one could capture him until a man named Jesús González, alias El Teco, betrayed him. Paredes explains that during the chase Cortez "walked at least one hundred twenty miles and rode more than four hundred on . . . brown . . . and sorrel mares." Cortez repeatedly crossed back and forth over the same area in order to confuse the men who were after him, some of whom were convinced that he was the head of an entire gang.
Gregorio Cortez became a folk hero for Mexican Americans. Both the legend of Cortez and the ballad emphasize that the Anglo Americans were able to capture him only because he decided to give himself up in order to spare his people any further suffering. Some versions of the incident relate that every man who offered Cortez water had been severely beaten and thrown in jail. Other Mexicans who fed him were hanged from trees because they had refused to tell in what direction Cortez was going. Although some of the details depicted in the ballad and the legend are obviously embellishments, Paredes's research revealed that indeed many Mexicans were victimized because of the Cortez affair. The Anglo American authorities harassed Cortez's mother, wife, and children and put them in jail. In addition, a friend who had helped him, the friend's wife, and their children were also jailed, in some cases after they had received gunshot wounds. The most blatant example of such mistreatment was the case of a thirteen-year-old Mexican boy who, accused of being a member of the nonexistent Cortez gang, was hanged from a tree nearly fatally.
Folktales of Mexico (1970) is a collection of tales edited and translated by Paredes. In his introduction Paredes offers a complete history of folklore societies and folklore studies in Mexico. In addition he offers a survey of Mexican and Mexican American folktale collections up to 1970, pointing out those that present genuine folk narratives and those in which the tales are in a dubious folk style. He states that folktale collections should specify where the collector found each item and supply background information on sources. In addition, maintaining the sources' style and providing annotated texts are necessary features that attest to the validity of the collections. "As a translator for this collection," he says, "I have sought to achieve the style of each narrator, without making him sound either like a midwestern American or a B movie Mexican." As sources of the tales he uses different informants and sound recordings made by himself, Joel Gómez, Gabriel Moedano, and Stanley L. Robe. Paredes alerts the reader to make use of the glossary when encountering Spanish or Indian terminology and notes that he has purposely left out overly familiar legends such as "La Llorona" (The Crying Woman). In addition to presenting a glossary and annotations, Paredes completes Folktales of Mexico with a list of abbreviations, a bibliography, an index of motifs, and an index of tale types.
The collection presents eighty-five tales divided into five categories: "Legendary Tales," "Animal Tales," "Ordinary Tales," "Jokes and Anecdotes," and "Formula Tales." Paredes supplies a detailed commentary on the types of tales included and remarks on those that are more popular in Mexico: "From my own experience as a child in northern Mexico, I would say that the communities where I spent the summers and listened to storytelling cultivated the legend to a much greater degree than they did the wonder tale."
Many of the tales in Folktales of Mexico are intriguing. The section "Legendary Tales," for example, begins with a story about the biblical flood in which a rabbit advises a man about the imminent danger. The rabbit gets into a box with the man and his family until the flood is over. On getting out of the box the man finds dead cattle, which he cooks on an open fire, while the rabbit eats only herbs. When God sees the smoke rising from Earth, he sends small angels to investigate and orders that they not eat anything. The angels eat some of the meat, however, and are turned into the vultures of the earth. "Animal Tales" contains stories about rabbits, foxes, burros, coyotes, and a billy goat. In one story a burro who is frequently beaten by his owner asks an older burro how old he has to be in order not to suffer so many beatings. He is told that the fate of burros is to be beaten all their lives and that he should pray that men do not make a drum out of him when he dies, "For then they'll keep on beating you on Saturdays and Sundays, even after you are dead."
Several tales located in different sections feature allusions to religion. The section "Ordinary Tales" includes "The Priest Who Had a Small Glimpse of Glory," the story of a priest who, just before saying mass, asks God to allow him to take a glimpse at heaven. He hears a bird sing, looks up, and falls into a deep trance; when he comes to his senses he is standing in an ancient church. He asks what happened, and the people relate to him his own story, about a priest who sought a vision of heaven and disappeared. The storyteller wonders that if a glimpse of heaven can throw a person into ecstasy for years, "what would it be like if he saw God's glory in all its splendor."
The section "Jokes and Anecdotes" includes several examples of tales dealing with the traditional Spanish trickster Pedro de Urdemalas, whose stories form an extensive cycle in Spanish folklore. In "Pedro de Urdemalas and the Gringo" Pedro feeds his burro some coins. Proclaiming that the animal excretes money in his dung, he exchanges it to a greedy gringo for two mules loaded with silver, a horse, and a suit with gold buttons. "Formula Tales" features stories that have delighted Latin American children for generations, such as those of Pérez the mouse, whose troubles include falling into a steaming pot because he did not stir the food with a large spoon as his wife had recommended.
Although Paredes's research centers on Mexican, Mexican American, and southwestern folklore, he has edited several publications on urban folklore reflecting different regions of the United States. The Urban Experience and Folk Tradition (1971), a collection of essays that he edited with Ellen J. Stekert, is essentially a publication of a special issue of the Journal of American Folklore. These essays are the product of a symposium, "The Urban Experience and Folk Tradition," held at Wayne State University on 20-21 May 1968. The book comprises five essays that focus on varied ethnic groups, traditions that these groups brought to the city, and traditions that developed in the city. The collection is of general interest not only to folklorists but also to ethnographers and sociologists. In addition to the essays, it includes prepared comments for each essay and replies to the prepared comments.
Toward New Perspectives in Folklore (1972) is a collection of essays edited by Paredes and Richard Bauman featuring innovative approaches to conducting research in folklore. Paredes explains the purpose of this collection, stating in the foreword that the
North American folklorist, like many of his colleagues in the social sciences has looked on theories less as the basis of sound methodologies and more as pronouncements with emotional, if not moral implication. He embraces them fervently when they appear, enshrining their proponents as prophets. Later, when experience shows that they will not answer all his questions, he denounces them in toto, casts them into outer darkness, and begins all over again. Perhaps this is the reason meaningful dialogue has been scarce in our discipline.
Some of the essays included in this volume develop a performance-oriented perspective and consider folklore as communicative interaction. They also examine methods of preparing oral narrative for literary presentation and the impact of folklore on the development of sociolinguistics.
Paredes's contributions to the development of Chicano studies are significant. In collaboration with Raymund Paredes, he produced one of the earliest Chicano anthologies, Mexican-American Authors (1972), offering an overview of twentieth-century Chicano literature in all its genres. It begins with a ballad, "Jacinto Treviño," one of the earliest samples of Mexican American folklore, which Paredes collected and translated into English. The anthology also features Jovita González's short narratives and works by Paredes, Fermina Guerra, Josephina Niggli, Rafael Jesús González, Mario Suárez, Luis Omar Salinas, Amado Muro, Arnulfo D. Trejo, Alfredo Otero y Herrera, Nick C. Vaca, and Richard Olivas.
A Texas-Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border (1976) is one of Paredes's most valuable contributions to the knowledge and preservation of Mexican American ballads and other folk songs. It constitutes a comprehensive anthology and study of traditional songs in the border area. The sixty-six songs featured appear complete with their original lyrics, English translations, and the melody line. The book includes five song categories: "Old Songs from Colonial Days," "Songs of Border Conflicts," "Songs for Special Occasions," "Romantic and Comic Songs," and "The Pocho Appears." Paredes explains in the introduction that he began collecting these songs around 1920: when he was growing up he heard them "on the lips of guitarreros and other people of the ranchos and towns."
Paredes says that "The whole of a people's past is reflected in these songs, from the days when they journeyed out of Chichimecaland, mid-eighteenth century pioneers, traveling north until they reached the Rio Grande, drank of its waters, and traveled no more. They settled on the river banks long before there was such a thing as the United States of America." He also explains that these songs "record an important aspect of the Mexican-American's long struggle to preserve [his] identity and affirm [his] rights as a human being." Paredes also provides valuable insights into the situations in which these songs were sung, recalling folk singers he knew and admired and tracing how border family celebrations became full folklore performances, including not only singing but also sharing oral history and legends and playing games.
Paredes includes insightful introductory essays for each section of the book in which he reveals his findings concerning the origins of the songs as well as the history and legends that surround them. He expands on the predominant role that cultural conflict has had in the production of border ballads, observing that many Mexican border folk songs center on violent encounters with Texas Rangers and other Anglo authorities. The situations portrayed reveal extreme contempt and disdain toward Anglo Americans, a quality missing from songs that feature other folk motifs such as Indians and sheepherders. Paredes uses the song "Los Inditos" to illustrate this point. The song, which refers to an Indian attack, became a favorite among children in the border areas:
Paredes explains that the inspiration for this song, a massacring party of Indians, is subdued and disguised by the choice of diction. Indio (Indian) becomes inditos (little Indians), the use of the Spanish diminutive implying sympathy for the Indians. They were not regarded as enemies, as were Anglo Americans such as the Texas Rangers, the much-despised rinches. Paredes points out humorously that there are no songs that refer to rinchitos or gringuitos, no attempts to encourage Mexican American children to identify with "little Texas Rangers or little Anglo American invaders of the Southwest." On the contrary, Texas Rangers and Anglo-Americans in general are viewed as hypocritical and abusive in Mexican American border folklore. Many songs included in A Texas-Mexican Cancionero, including corridos such as "Jacinto Treviño," "Gregorio Cortez," and "Los tequileros" (The Tequila Runners), tell of vicious rinches who murder Mexicans in cowardly fashion.
Humanidad: Essays in Honor of George I. Sánchez (1977) gives evidence of Paredes's contributions to the humanities and to the field of education. The volume includes ten essays dealing with bilingualism and biculturalism, the presence of the Spanish language in the American Southwest, Chicano history, and the works of Mexican intellectuals such as Justo Sierra, Trinidad Sánchez, and Ricardo Flores Magón. Paredes and the other contributors to the volume present George I. Sánchez as a teacher, a scholar, and an advocate of human rights. As early as the 1930s Sánchez's efforts to ensure "equal educational opportunities for the Spanish speaking" were evident. Among Sánchez's many contributions are his findings that IQ tests were culturally biased instruments, which directed the attention of educators to admit that test results among minorities had been misinterpreted for years. The collection comprises essays by Paredes and nine other distinguished scholars, including Ernesto Galarza, the Chicano social scientist, historian, author, and educator.
George Washington Gómez: A Mexicotexan Novel (1990) is Paredes's most outstanding contribution to Chicano fiction. As Chicano writer Rolando Hinojosa relates in his introduction to the novel, Paredes began the novel in 1936 and had completed it by 1940. His various activities and his academic career, however, interfered with the final preparation of the manuscript for publication. The novel, Hinojosa says, is authentically "set against the Great Depression, the onset of World War II in Europe, and set also against the over-100-year-old conflict of cultures in the Lower Río Grande Valley of Texas, not far from where the Río Grande empties into the Gulf." It is a portrayal of an era of hardships that left a deep mark on the Chicanos of south Texas.
The novel is divided into five parts: "Los sediciosos" (The Seditionists), "Jonesville-on-the-Grande," "Dear Old Gringo School Days," "La Chilla" (The Squeal), and "Leader of His People." Paredes establishes early the environment, ridden with cultural conflict, in which Guálinto, the central character, develops. The character's father, Gumercindo, appears as an innocent victim of violence on the part of the rinches. The Texas Rangers treacherously murder Gumercindo because they erroneously assume that he is linked to the seditionist movement involving Anacleto de la Peña and Lupe García, Gualinto's uncle on his mother's side. The seditionists aim toward the establishment of a Spanish-speaking republic in the Southwest. The bitter tone of the novel also is evident from the onset with the portrayal of fearful Mexicans and Texas Mexicans who are convinced that "a Border Mexican knew that there was no brotherhood of men." As the story progresses, María, Guálinto's mother, moves to Jonesville-on-the-Grande under the protection of her brother Feliciano, who fulfills the paternal role for Guálinto and his two sisters, Carmen and Maruca. The violent environment is evident in the childhood games of the protagonist, who pretends that he is killing rinches while stabbing the stalks of the banana plants that form a pleasant, secluded grove in the backyard of his home. Although he does not know the story of his father, the child concludes that since the rinches easily murder Mexicans, he must kill all the rinches when he grows up.
While the Mexican Revolution rages across the border, Feliciano wages his private war against Anglo- Americans. He explains to Guálinto that his family lost a large portion of land in the early days of the division of the territory. When the child inquires as to the fate of that land, his uncle bitterly alludes to the legendary King Ranch: "The Gringos got it. It's part of the Keene ranch now."
The school system in Jonesville-on-the-Grande appears permeated with prejudice against the Mexican American children. The administration disdainfully places the children in "low" first- and second-grade classes until they learn English and are able to attend regular classes. Guálinto, whose father named him George Washington, is a brilliant child, the hope of his family. The narrator explains that "His mother, his uncle, and even Carmen had come to take it for granted that he would grow up to be a great man as his father had wished. A great man who would help and lead his people to a better kind of life." School life is difficult for Guálinto, however. He suffers the abuses of an insensitive teacher, although in his drive to learn he becomes reminiscent of the child Ernesto in Galarza's autobiography, Barrio Boy: The Story of a Boy's Acculturation (1971). One scene, which portrays Guálinto reciting a poem about George Washington in front of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, brings to mind Ernesto's successful public performance during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Despite such rewarding moments, Guálinto's school days include unpleasant experiences. On one occasion, his abusive teacher beats him and publicly humiliates him for having written a love note to the girl of his dreams. As a teenager he is unable to attend a school party held at a nightclub because the doorman claims that the establishment does not allow admission to Mexican Americans.
In the section "La Chilla" the eighteen-year-old Guálinto dreams of writing an immortal poem for María Elena Osuna, his childhood sweetheart. Guálinto faces the ravages of the Great Depression, which brings serious consequences to his people, although it arrives late in south Texas. The shipping to Mexico of Mexicans and Mexican Americans who cannot readily produce papers becomes common practice. Mexicans who had been in the United States since 1915 are made to leave the country and are arrested when they attempt to come back to see their families. Guálinto suffers salary discrimination when he is lucky enough to find a job. "La Chilla" is the phrase characters in the novel use to comment on the slight value the Anglo authorities place on Mexican lives. "Sugar is two cents a pound and men are two cents a dozen, Mexicans half-price. Flour costs a quarter a sack, and a quarter costs all of man's efforts and the little pride he has left. La Chilla."
Guálinto also faces the disintegration of his family when his sister Maruca becomes pregnant, bringing shame and dishonor to the family. The protagonist's anguish becomes more intense when he encounters a wanted man on a dark night and hits him with a brick. The man, who turns out to be the former rebel Lupe García, his mother's brother, later dies of pneumonia. Guálinto learns from Feliciano that García was wanted because he had killed an old rinche, the murderer of Guálinto's father.
"Leader of His People," the fifth section of the novel, brings the narrative to an end with an ironic twist. Guálinto, who has become a lawyer and changed his name to George G. Gómez, returns to his hometown just before the United States enters World War II, bringing with him an Anglo American wife. He is a first lieutenant in counterintelligence for the U.S. Army. When his uncle Feliciano learns about his mission, he tells him that he hopes he is "smart enough not to mistake a slant-eyed Indian from southern Texas for a Japanese agent." Guálinto has become a vendido (sellout) who has lost faith in his people and has little regard for his cultural heritage.
The creative work of Américo Paredes has also enriched Chicano poetry. His second volume of poetry, Between Two Worlds (1991), contains early poems dating from the 1930s and 1940s as well as later compositions. Some of the poems had appeared sporadically in Texas newspapers. Paredes confesses that he has always been writing poetry on small pieces of paper. In 1960 he decided to burn his poems, handwritten on "yellowing pieces of paper of all shapes and sizes." He did not completely destroy his poetic corpus, however, and what remains qualifies him as a forerunner of modern Chicano poetry. Aware of his contribution, Paredes says that he "might compete for the title of Grandpa Moses of Chicano literature."
Between Two Worlds presents two main sections. In the first part, containing eighty-four poems, some of which are in English and others in Spanish, the poet develops themes that deal with the nature of man and his universal anguish, as well as themes centering on conflicts arising from the poet's Mexican American identity. In addition to examining the effects of opposing cultural forces on individuals, the poet evokes his experiences overseas during World War II. He offers glimpses of exotic lands, such as Japan, China, and Manchuria. Moreover, he exhibits touches of humor in his depictions of army personnel and military situations. Lyric poetry, in which the poet celebrates love and feminine beauty, also abounds in this first part.
The second part of Between Two Worlds, "From Cantos a Carolina (1934-1946)" (From Songs to Caroline), includes ten lyric poems, in which love, beauty, nature, and the intimate thoughts of the poet are the principal topics. The last poem of the book, which serves as the epilogue, is "Canto de la muerte joven" (Song to Early Death). It questions the validity of life's unjustly imposed struggles before the imminent presence of death.
The first poem, "The Río Grande," which dates from 1934, sets the tone for the entire volume and brings forth the most prevalent motifs in Paredes's poetry, the inner conflicts of the human soul and the anxiety of a dual existence between two worlds. Personalizing the river, the poet seeks emotional comfort from it. He perceives in the river the same turmoil that tortures his soul, however:
The Spanish version of this poem, "El Río Bravo," which dates from 1936, is included in Paredes's Cantos de adolescencia.
Some of Paredes's poetry makes evident his intense reading of Spanish and Latin American poets. A case in point is "Ahí nomás" (Just Over There), from the first part of Between Two Worlds. This composition has clear correspondences with "Ahí, no más . . ." (There, no more . . .) from "Notas del alma indígena" (Notes on the Indian Soul), by the Peruvian poet José Santos Chocano. Both Paredes and Santos Chocano praise the physical and inner strength of the New World Indian; both see him as an integral part of their ethnic heritage; and both perceive in the Indian a model to follow. Whereas Santos Chocano's poem is extensive and forms part of a triptych composition, however, Paredes's poem comprises seven stanzas and addresses its theme more directly:
The poet addresses the Indian and admires the fortitude of his spirit, recognizing him as part of his ethnic heritage. He acknowledges the abuse that has afflicted the Indian's life in stanzas 2 and 3. He makes evident, however, that while the Indian has suffered, he continues to move forward, avoiding anger and hopelessness. Hence, the Indian offers a model for the poet to follow as he pursues the path of his existence. In Between Two Worlds Paredes offers the reader the poetic work of a lifetime. He ends the volume with a section titled "Notes and Random Comments," in which he gives candid insights into his poems.
Paredes the folklorist emerges again in Uncle Remus con chile (1993), a collection of 217 interlingual folk texts he obtained in 1962 and 1963, "during a year of fieldwork mostly along the Lower Río Grande border country." Some of the texts date from research endeavors undertaken in the late 1960s and 1970. Besides the many texts that come from the Lower Border area, he includes in this collection materials from northwestern Mexico, the central Mexican plateau, and the Mexican American communities of the Midwest.
Paredes succeeds in rendering a faithful transcription of his sources' vernacular, making the texts valuable interlingual documents as well as samples of folklore. "A device used in some jests," Paredes explains, "is telling most of the story in Spanish and then springing the punch line in English." Although many of the jests included in this collection allude to difficult issues, most of them are humorous and a few are irreverent. After the texts, Paredes provides background comments on the informants, notes on the texts, and a list of references cited.
The source of many of the jests included in this volume is interethnic conflict, and Anglo Americans, tourists, and Texas Rangers especially are the butt of much of the humor in them. However, there are texts that reflect the mistreatment of Mexicans and texts that feature historical characters such as Pancho Villa and Antonio López de Santa Anna. "Los vendidos por Santa Anna," for example, tells how Santa Anna sold the Mexican territory because he did not allow many rancheros (ranchers) and vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) to fight for their land against the Americans. This treachery is the reason the Mexicans call Mexican Americans "los vendidos por Santa Anna"--"those sold by Santa Anna." "Pagando por Texas" (Paying for Texas) explains why American tourists pay higher prices on the other side of the border: it is because the Mexicans want to make them pay for having stolen Texas.
The topic of racial discrimination emerges in several of the texts. "Los mexicanos güeros" (The Blond Mexicans) tells about blond Mexicans who are amusing themselves in a swimming pool until the manager asks them to leave. When he finds out that they are of German descent, he tells them that they can stay as long as they do not speak Spanish. This same motif of discrimination surfaces humorously in "La discriminación." In a survey of discriminatory practices in Texas, authorities contact the school superintendent at Rio Grande City. The superintendent replies by stating that there is no racial discrimination in that area because "We treat Anglos just like everybody else." Other amusing jests involving racial discrimination are "Dogs Allowed" and "No comía de eso" (He Didn't Eat That). The former tells about a small town in central Texas that has a restaurant featuring the sign "No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed." Down the street, however, there is a Mexican restaurant with a sign that reads "Dogs Allowed. Gringos Too." "No comía de eso" refers to a Mexican who, when told by a waiter that a restaurant does not serve Mexicans, replies, "I don't eat Mexicans."
Paredes the scholar is evident in Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border (1993), which contains eleven of his most notable essays, first published between 1958 and 1987. These essays are thematically divided into two sections: "The Social Base and the Negotiation of Identity" and "The Folklore Genres: History, Form, and Performance."
In "Folklore of Groups of Mexican Origin in the United States" (1979) Paredes provides an overview of one of his most significant contributions to American folklore, the discovery of the genesis and development of Mexican American folklore out of intercultural conflict. He found the first examples of this folklore in the border ballads portraying men who defended their rights against North American aggressiveness. Rebels such as Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, Aniceto Pizaña, Gregorio Cortez, and Elfego Baca are all subjects of a corrido, or ballad. These ballads, which were already in existence at the end of the 1850s, not only constitute the initial genre of Mexican American folklore but also anticipate the emergence of the Mexican corrido. Fragments of these early Mexican American ballads are still in existence around the border areas.
Another insightful essay included in Folklore and Culture is "On Ethnographic Work among Minority Groups: A Folklorist's Perspective" (1977), in which Paredes addresses the quarrel between Chicanos and anthropology, specifically the Chicano complaint about "ethnographies made of their people by Anglo anthropologists." Based on his years of study, Paredes is led to agree with the Chicanos' opinion. He finds unreal the Mexicans and the Chicanos portrayed in many anthropological studies of the past and asserts that it is difficult for him to understand the false results found in these studies since he knows that the researchers involved "are for the most part liberal in their racial and political views, with real respect for the culture they study."
Paredes states that ethnographers must be aware that when they write about minority groups in the United States they are dealing with people who are their contemporaries and are thus able to formulate a response about their portrayal. This situation differs greatly from that of scholars who write about inhabitants of faraway lands in the distant past. Therefore, ethnographers who work with American minority groups must improve their methodology. More-rigorous methods of gathering information are necessary in order to obtain valid results. Moreover, a thorough knowledge of the language, both standard and dialectal, is an absolute necessity, for example, to undertake a study with Chicanos. What one usually considers to be fluency in a language other than one's own does not equip an ethnographer to interpret accurately people's feelings and attitudes in actual communicative experiences. Unwarranted generalizations may result when an ethnographer misinterprets a colloquial or a metaphorical expression, especially if that ethnographer takes the expression in its standard dictionary meaning. According to Paredes, a skillful jokester can easily mislead an ethnographer, especially if he is an outsider without full command of the language. The essays in Folklore and Culture are of paramount importance in comprehending the nature of Paredes's thought and his innovative perspectives in regard to Chicano ethnography and history and border folklore.
The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (1994) constitutes another dimension of Paredes's role in the development of Chicano letters. Paredes presents seventeen short stories, several of which share with George Washington Gómez the south Texas setting of Jonesville-on-the-Grande, under the shadow of Fort Jones. This setting is reminiscent of Brownsville and historic Fort Brown, established in 1846 to house troops during the Mexican-American War and later used to defend the border.
As in the case of the poetry in Between Two Worlds, some of these stories were composed in the 1930s and late 1940s. Cases in point are the title story and "Over the Waves Is Out." Although it was written in 1939, "The Hammon and the Beans" was not published until more than twenty years later, in the Texas Observer (18 April 1963). "Over the Waves Is Out," written around 1948, did not appear until the summer of 1953 in the New Mexico Review. Both of these stories feature child characters who observe but do not fully understand the uneasiness of the adult world of south Texas.
Another story featuring a child character is "A Cold Night." After witnessing a murder, a boy becomes afraid of death and exhibits signs of existential anguish, cursing God and seeking comfort in the colorful image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Hence the reader sees in this character a forerunner of the central figures in Tomás Rivera 's " . . . And the Earth Did Not Part" (1971) and Rudolfo Anaya 's Bless Me Ultima (1972). Many of the stories with adult narrators center either on the Mexican American experience in the armed forces, particularly in dealing with racism and stereotyping, or simply on the human experience of war.
Américo Paredes is one of the most notable Chicano scholars. His contributions to American and Mexican culture and folklore, Chicano studies, and Chicano literature have been recognized repeatedly. The University of Texas at Austin has established in his honor the Américo Paredes Distinguished Lecture Series, initiated in 1978. His awards have included the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989 and the Order of the Aztec Eagle from the Government of Mexico in 1990. Paredes died on 5 May 1999.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Written by: Cida S. Chase, Oklahoma State University
Source: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 209: Chicano Writers, Third Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Francisco A. Lomelí, University of California, Santa Barbara and Carl R. Shirley, University of South Carolina. The Gale Group, 1999. pp. 182-193.
Gale Database: Dictionary of Literary Biography