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Américo Paredes: 1915-1999: Folklorist, Educator

Investigated Background And Development Of Corrido

Paredes stayed on at the University of Texas, receiving his master of arts degree in 1953 and a doctorate in 1956. He taught for a year at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) and then returned to Austin to teach folklore and creative writing at Texas. In 1958 his landmark study With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero was published; it covered an actual incident, the 1901 death of a Mexican agricultural worker, Gregorio Cortez, who was hunted down and killed after he shot a Texas sheriff. Paredes presented both a balanced history of the incident (earlier written histories had been slanted toward Texas law enforcement's version of events) and investigated the musical balladry that Cortez's death inspired among Mexican Americans in subsequent years.

With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero was published by the University of Texas Press only after prodding from Paredes's few faculty support-ers—as the New York Times dryly noted, the university "had never been particularly welcoming to Mexican-American students or scholars." Paredes set out to change that situation, founding the university's Center for Intercultural Studies of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in 1967 and, in 1970, a program in Mexican American studies. Despite his impressive academic credentials—he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962, among other honors—Paredes encountered resistance to his initiatives and more than once considered resigning from the Texas faculty.

Paredes published several more well-received books as well as numerous articles, however, and he served as editor of the prestigious Journal of American Folklore from 1968 to 1973. His books included A Texas-Mexican Cancionero, an annotated songbook that has since served as a standard reference for the traditional corrido repertory. In 1989 Paredes was honored with the Charles Frankel Prize by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1991 he received the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican government—that country's highest honor given to citizens of foreign countries.

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