Américo Paredes: 1915-1999: Folklorist, Educator
Heard Songs And Folktales From Workers
Traditionally after the school year ended in Brownsville, Paredes worked in the summer and began to experience the Mexican-American folklore of the area first-hand, from Mexican agricultural workers he met. He began writing poetry while still a high school student, but his school counselor assumed that, as a student of Mexican background, he would not go on to college. His persistence first showed itself when he sought out a more sympathetic teacher to plead his cause; after he won first prize in a statewide poetry contest he applied and was admitted to Brownsville Junior College. Paredes landed a job as a writer, translator, and proofreader with the Brownsville Herald newspaper, and by the time he was 20 he had seen some of his poems published in San Antonio's La Prensa.
In 1937 Paredes published a book of poetry, Cantos de adolescencia. He continued to write for the Herald, but he encountered discrimination there and was increasingly restless. Continuing to write poetry and short stories (many of which were first published only at the end of his life), he searched for new opportunities and worked for Pan American Airways for a time. Paredes was briefly married to Brownsville singer Chelo Silva; the marriage produced one son. In 1944 Paredes enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman.
After the war he was sent to Japan to write for the Army's Stars and Stripes newspaper, where he covered Japanese war crimes trials and served as political editor. Paredes lived in Japan for five years, doing public relations work for the Red Cross after his discharge. At the Red Cross offices in Tokyo he met his second wife Amelia Nagamine, a woman of Japanese-Uruguayan background; friends had introduced them hoping that they would enjoy speaking Spanish to one another. The two were married in 1948 and settled in Austin, Texas. Paredes enrolled at the University of Texas and, with junior college already under his belt, graduated summa cum laude after a year of study.
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