Américo Paredes and the Culminination of Chicano Folklore Studies

By Leal, Luis | Western Folklore, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Américo Paredes and the Culminination of Chicano Folklore Studies


Leal, Luis, Western Folklore


It is indeed an honor for me to have been invited by to participate in this conference dedicated to don Américo, which gives us an opportunity to remember his ncas contribuciones not only to the study of Chicano/mexicano folklore, but to a number of related anthropological fields, from both theoretical and historical perspectives. I had the good fortune of having met Américo Paredes in Austin during the summer of 1963, on the occasion of the annual meeting of the Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana. It was there that I first heard him play the guitar and sing corridas and traditional Mexican songs. I had the pleasure of hearing him again in Urbana, Illinois, where he published his TexasMexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border. In 1987 I had the honor of delivering the first presentation at the Américo Paredes Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Texas in Austin. It is for these reasons that I am very pleased to participate in this conference today.

In this paper I limit myself to the study of Américo Paredes's evaluation of former Chicano folklore research and end with his own contributions, which represent the culmination of studies in this field.

It is often stated that Chicano folklore studies are of very recent origin. Naturally we cannot talk about the history of such studies if that history has not been written. For instance, as of today, we have very little information regarding the contributions of early Chicano scholars, with the exception of those by Professor Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa and his contemporaries.

I will briefly explore the accomplishments of those early scholars, not with the idea of establishing the roots of Chicano folklore scholarship, but only to document the state of Chicano folklore studies before 1942, the year Dr. Paredes published in the Southwest Review his first article, "The Mexico-Texan Corrido." Then I will end by enumerating the contributions that he made to a new type of folklore scholarship. I will not mention his contributions to other fields, since I have done that already in an earlier study.

By Chicano folklore scholarship I mean the research carried out by scholars of Mexican descent living or having lived in the United States any time after 1848. As far as I know, no effort has been made to write the history of their contributions, although there are studies about individual scholars. The earliest Chicano folklorists were not so much scholars, as they were aficionados interested in preserving the history of the Mexican American people. Unfortunately, their efforts have remained in the form of manuscripts. Most of them are kept in the libraries of the Southwest, among them Bancroft Library in Berkley, the University of Texas Library at Austin, the University of New Mexico Library at Albuquerque, and others.

It is for this reason that we must consider Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa as the founder of modern Mexican American folklore studies. He opened two new fields of investigation, linguistics and folklore, both essential to the humanistic study of Chicano culture. Espinosa began by studying the folklore of New Mexico and then went on to include that of Spain and California. His Hispanist theory of the origin of Mexican American culture is well known, as is its rejection by Américo Paredes. Espinosa's great contribution is not to be found in his theoretical assumptions, but in the fact that he was the first professional scholar who dedicated his whole life to the study of folklore among residents of Mexican origin in the Southwest. His studies of the folktale, the romance, and the dé cima, are still consulted today. He is also remembered for the discovery of important manuscripts, such as the popular plays Los Comanches (1907) and The Texans (1943). No less important are his teaching and his training of a number of students to continue his work, among them Arthur Campa, Juan B. Rael, and his own son, José Manuel Espinosa. …

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