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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   



2. Exploring
Borderlands


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Gloria
Anzaldúa
- Bartolomé
de las Casas
- Bernal Díaz
del Castillo
- Samuel
de Champlain
- Christopher
Columbus
- Adriaen
Van der Donck
- Americo
Paredes
- John Smith
- Álvar Núñez
Cabeza de Vaca
- Garcilaso
de la Vega
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Americo Paredes (c. 1915-1999)

With a Pistol in His Hand
[6573] Anonymous, Cover art for Americo Paredes's With a Pistol in His Hand (1958), courtesy of the University of Texas Press.

Americo Paredes Activities
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Born in the town of Brownsville on the border between south Texas and Mexico, Americo Paredes became an eloquent interpreter of the complicated, bicultural society that had grown out of the conflicts and tensions of this region. As the title of his second volume of poetry indicates, he found his identity Between Two Worlds. Paredes's pioneering work recording and elucidating Chicano folklore, as well as his commitment to furthering the field of Mexican American studies, left a lasting legacy that has inspired many writers and scholars interested in border cultures.

Paredes received his early education in Brownsville's public schools and at the local community college. He began writing poetry and fiction in the late 1930s. His novel George Washington Gomez: A Mexicotexan Novel, a bitter coming-of-age story of a Mexican American man who experiences discrimination in his childhood and copes by eventually renouncing his culture, was completed in 1940 but was not published until 1991. At the start of World War II, Paredes was sent overseas with the U.S. Army, where he served as a reporter for The Stars and Stripes and as an administrator for the International Red Cross.

After returning to Texas, Paredes entered college at the University of Texas at Austin. When he received his Ph.D. in folklore and Spanish in 1956, he became the first Mexican American student to earn a doctoral degree at that institution. Paredes wrote his dissertation on the story of the Mexican American folk hero Gregorio Cortez. In the late nineteenth century, Cortez avenged the unprovoked death of his brother at the hands of Anglo rangers (rinches) by killing a white sheriff. Cortez then successfully evaded the posses sent to capture him by drawing on his connections within the Chicano community and by skillfully navigating the southwestern landscape. When the rinches began punishing the Mexicans who helped Cortez, he surrendered himself to spare his people any further suffering. The story of Cortez, with its emphasis on heroic protest and resistance in the face of Anglo oppression, became legendary among Mexican Americans in the Texas border region and inspired many stories, drawings, and especially songs that celebrated Cortez's life and martyrdom. Paredes's dissertation, entitled With a Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero, explored the political and cultural importance of the Cortez story and of the ballads, or corridos (see Unit 5), which it inspired. This pioneering study of the development of folklore and the importance of conflict in border regions became enormously influential and has gone through over eight printings.

Paredes joined the faculty at the University of Texas in 1957. During his thirty-year teaching career, he was involved in the creation and administration of the Mexican American studies program and the Center for Intercultural Studies of Folklore and Ethno-musicology. His scholarship and creative work were instrumental in the movement to define and proclaim a unique "border identity" for people living in the land caught between the United States and Mexico, which has long been characterized by conflict and tension.



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