Latino Studies Américo Paredes
Derek Xavier García, Ilan Stavans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0094


Américo Paredes (b. 1915–d. 1999) was considered to be one of the foremost Mexican-American scholars of the twentieth century. Having influenced an entire generation of Chicano scholars—such as José E. Limón, David Montejano, and Ramón Saldívar—he is one of the forerunners of Chicano studies. A self-described “proto-Chicano,” he was born in Brownsville, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. Fascinated with the border tales and ballads of his youth, Paredes soon began to write poetry. During the Great Depression, he worked as a writer for a local newspaper. In 1944, he enlisted in the US Army and was stationed in Japan as a journalist for Stars and Stripes and the Mexican newspaper El Universal. After he was discharged, he served with the American Red Cross and traveled across Asia. When he returned from Japan, Paredes enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin where he acquired his doctorate degree at the age of forty-one. In 1957, he began to teach at the University of Texas at Austin. The next year, his doctoral dissertation, With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and its Hero, was published. An analysis of a popular corrido, the book expands several genres, presenting a folkloric, ethnographic, and sociocultural study of South Texas Mexicans. During his time at the University of Texas, Paredes was instrumental in furthering scholarship in folklore and Mexican-American studies. He successfully founded the Center for Intercultural Studies for Folklore and Musicology in 1967 and cofounded the Center for Mexican American Studies in 1970. He continued to publish studies on border folklore, such as A Texas-Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border in 1976, and Folklore and Culture of the Texas-Mexican Border in 1992. He received numerous accolades during his lifetime, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962 and the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989. A year later, he was awarded the Orden del Aguila Azteca from the Mexican government, the highest honor afforded to foreign citizens. In 1991, he received the Orden de José de Escandón. In his later life, Paredes began to publish the Creative Works he originally wrote during his adolescence and time abroad. Some of these include George Washington Gómez (1990) and The Hammon and the Beans (1994). Paredes’s works concerning border life have become the focal point for numerous scholars wanting to research folklore and the Mexican-American experience.

Historical Antecedents and Influences

Although Américo Paredes was probably the first widely recognized Chicano author in the United States, he was not the first Mexican-American scholar to study folk songs or the Mexican-American condition. Mexican and American scholars influenced his work. Espinosa 1990 and Campa 1946 both study Mexican-Americans in the American Southwest, analyzing ballads and folklore, but differ in their views of the origins of that folklore. Espinosa holds that folklore in the Southwest is fundamentally Spanish, while Campa argues that it is of expressly Mexican origin. González 2006 is remarkable because it presents a historical background of the lower Rio Grande Valley and offers an analysis of the people of the area. Mendoza 1954, which laid the groundwork for further corrido research in the United States, preceded Paredes in corrido study. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Latino Studies “Corridos,” for further corrido research. Thompson 1955–1958 provided Paredes with an extensive classification of folk narratives that helped him categorize Mexican-American folklore.

  • Campa, Arthur L. Spanish Folk-Poetry in New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1946.

    An analysis of folk music from New Mexico in the 1940s. The work also includes a history of Spanish balladry.

  • Espinosa, Aurelio M. The Folklore of Spain in the American Southwest: Traditional Spanish Folk Literature in New Mexico and Southern Colorado. Edited by J. Manuel Espinosa. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

    Published jointly with a biography by J. Manuel Espinosa, son of Aurelio M. Espinoza. The latter part of the book, written by Aurelio, deals with the origins of Spanish folk customs in New Mexico and Colorado. Excellent resource of folk tales, ballads, and proverbs from the region.

  • González, Jovita. Life along the Border: A Landmark Tejana Thesis. Edited by María Eugenia Cotera. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006.

    Originally published as a master’s thesis for the University of Texas, this text provides an excellent historical background to Américo Paredes’s homeland, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Furthermore, it offers a valuable female perspective and critique of the society Paredes studied.

  • Mendoza, Vicente T. El corrido mexicano. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1954.

    Written by one of the foremost corrido scholars, this is an anthology of Mexican corridos.

  • Thompson, Stith. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends. 6 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955–1958.

    The seminal work from one of the most influential American folklorists of the twentieth century presents an exhaustive catalogue of folk narrative themes complete with a bibliography to many of these narratives. Originally developed by Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne in 1910.

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