Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Encaminándonos: Américo Paredes as a Guiding Force in Transcending Borders

Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Encaminándonos: Américo Paredes as a Guiding Force in Transcending Borders

Article excerpt

Américo Paredes was a prolific transdisciplinary scholar and an extraordinary humanitarian whose life's work focused on challenging, crossing, and bridging borders of various kinds. In this essay, I demonstrate that Paredes carved an incredibly fertile intellectual path that yielded copious theoretical insights and inspired new generations of scholars to pursue, and expand upon, his groundbreaking revisionist scholarship. Noting that his activities in Mexico and Latin America remain relatively unexplored, I also contribute to the scholarship on Paredes by asking, What research projects did he pursue in Mexico de adentro? With whom did Paredes work and interact in Latin America? What was the nature of his relationships with Latin American scholars? Drawing primarily on the Américo Paredes Papers at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries at Austin, I examine the nature and scope of Paredes's scholarly and personal experiences south of the US-Mexico border.

It is not surprising that most intellectuals of color in the past exerted much of their energies and efforts to gain acceptance and approval by "white normative gazes." The new cultural politics of difference advises critics and artists of color to put aside this mode of mental bondage, thereby freeing themselves both to interrogate the ways in which they are bound by certain conventions and to learn from and build on these very norms and models. . . . It is no accident that the most creative and profound among them-especially those with staying power beyond mere flashes in the pan to satisfy faddish tokenism-are usually marginal to the mainstream.

-Cornel West1

best known as a scholar of folkloristics and founder of Chicano Studies, Dr. Américo Paredes contributed extensively to the formation of various intellectual trends.2 Growing up along the Texas-Mexico border, Paredes encountered borders of various kinds-geopolitical, racial, linguistic, cultural, and disciplinary. Throughout his entire life, Paredes resisted, questioned, transgressed, and bridged borders. Paredes came to perceive the border as a site of cultural convergence, conflict, and creativity. His constant engagement with borders allowed him to develop a critical double vision that generated copious innovative theoretical insights, many of which are foundational to current critiques of, and innovations in, anthropological and folkloristic theory and practice. Indeed, many of his scholarly contributions anticipated the "experimental moment in anthropology" by several decades.3 Nonetheless, many contemporary scholars, particularly those outside of folkloristics and Chicano studies, fail to recognize Paredes and his pioneering scholarship.

To better appreciate Paredes and his numerous contributions, I offer this essay. My principal objective is to examine Paredes's pioneering cross-border or transnational perspective, focusing in particular on his active engagement with scholars and scholarship in Mexico and Latin America. However, I begin by providing a brief overview of his most important theoretical contributions. Next, I present a brief biographical sketch to situate Paredes historically and geographically. In the final section, I provide a close examination of the nature and scope of his scholarly research and professional activities in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Paredes's Critical Interventions

One of Paredes's most impressive qualities is the breadth and depth of his knowledge and training. An accomplished journalist, musician, poet, ethnographer, novelist, folklorist, and historian, Paredes mastered various genres of writing and employed a multi-disciplinary approach in most of his scholarship. His ability to write in various registers and to employ a variety of rhetorical styles made Paredes an exceptionally prolific scholar. In fact, since the late 1940s, Paredes's writings exemplify the concept of "blurred genres," that is, the tendency toward genre mixing in intellectual writing. …

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