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The legacy of Américo Paredes University to observe centennial of scholar, folklorist

Américo Paredes
Américo Paredes

Monica Gudiño

Musician, scholar, folklorist and Brownsville native Américo Paredes helped to set the foundations for modern Mexican American scholars.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will host “A Texas-Mexican Centennial: The legacies of Américo Paredes,” a panel discussion, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the PlainsCapital Bank El Gran Salón. The event is a joint effort with the University of Texas at Austin.

“Américo Paredes had a major effect upon the development of Mexican American studies and is considered one of the founding figures of the field,” said John M. Gonzalez, an associate English professor and associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT Austin. “More generally, he was a really important figure in analyzing how Mexican Americans are imagined in the United States and how they respond to that.”

Paredes was born in Brownsville, on Sept. 3, 1915, and died on May 5, 1999. He attended Brownsville Junior College in 1934 and at the same time started working for the Brownsville Herald as a proofreader, translator and staff writer, according to a biography on the UT Austin website.

In 1937, his first book of poetry, titled “Cantos de adolescencia,” was published. Paredes quit his job to join the U.S. Army as an infantryman in 1944.

He returned to the U.S. in 1950 and enrolled in UT Austin, from which he graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in English and folklore studies. In 1956, he received his doctorate in the same fields from the university. His doctoral dissertation, titled “With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and its Hero,” was on Gregorio Cortez, a South Texas folk hero.

Paredes had a tenure track position teaching folklore and creative writing at UT Austin. His “Folktales of Mexico,” which was published in 1970, and “A Texas Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border,” in 1976, assured his scholarly reputation, according to the website.

The keynote speaker in the celebration will be Richard Flores, a professor of anthropology and senior associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin. Flores was one of Paredes’ doctoral students.

“He has a very direct connection to the legacy of Dr. Paredes, which is something that we are also celebrating,” Gonzalez said.

The panel will consist of Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, who is the Ellen Clayton Garwood Centennial Professor in creative writing at UT Austin and who was Paredes’ colleague when they both attended UT Austin; Manuel Medrano, a lecturer in the History department at UTRGV; and Diana Noreen Rivera, an assistant professor of Literatures and Cultural Studies and an affiliate of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UTRGV.

“I’m going to be speaking about Paredes from this new generation of scholars, scholars who didn’t know him personally but still feel a very intimate connection at the power and wisdom and the narratives of his works,” Rivera said.

The closing panel will consist of UTRGV graduate students Gabriela Cavazos, Martha Garza, Abel Moreno and Victoria Valdez.

There will also be a corrido performance by José Villarreal. It will be followed by a reception outside the PlainsCapital Bank El Gran Salón, with live music provided by Los Halcones del Valle.

“He provided a voice for the people, for the Mexican American people, the ‘gente’ of the Rio Grande Valley, especially, who are often left out is this fringe community of our country,” Rivera said about Paredes.

A 3 p.m. shuttle from the Visitor Center on the Edinburg campus to the Main building on the Brownsville campus would get guests to the event on time. The returning shuttle leaves at 9 p.m. from Main and arrives in Edinburg at 10:30 p.m.

For more information about the event, call the Office of Mexican American Studies at 665-3212.

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