Page 9


PEOP Make a world of difference ! We’re proud of our employees and their contributions to your success and ours. Call us for quality printing, binding, mailing and data processing services. Get to know the people at Futura. FUTUM P.O. Box 17427 Austin, TX 78760-7427 389-1500 COMMUNICATIONS, INC. of the tales that they contain.” “The book would have been a pretty little story about what the Anglo establishment would call a Mexican bandit,” Paredes says today. “I told them I would try to publish it elsewhere.” “He’s so bright, and he does know his history,” says old friend Rolando HinojosaSmith, a fellow University of Texas English professor and a novelist who chronicles life in the Rio Grande Valley. “He wasn’t going to back down.” UT Press did back down. With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero was published in 1958, without the changes that the Press had initially requested. Although no one sued, a Texas Ranger did threaten Paredes with violence. “Must be doing something right,” the author responded. Thirty-five years later, this unique work part scholarly investigation into the evolution of a popular corrido and part revisionist retelling of the 1901 incident that inspired the corrido remains a fascinating, readable book. Corridos, as Paredes explains, are narrative songs that had their origin as outlaw ballads in .central Mexico in the mid-1800s.:B.y the time Paredes began listening to border corridos in the 1920s, the form had nearly run its course. It would be revived in the 1960s, partly as a result of Paredes’ book. For nearly a decade after its publication, With His Pistol in His Hand was something of an underground classic, unknown and unread. That began to change in the mid-1960s, when Chicano activists at Berkeley and other California institutions discovered the book. They recognized its significance as an alternative telling of American history, sociology and literature. “They say, although I don’t want to claim it,” Paredes notes with characteristic modesty, “that it was instrumental in the birth of the Chicano movement.” Today, With His Pistol in His Hand is in its ninth printing. “His writings are extensive, he’s well recognized nationally, he’s one of our top guns,” Ricardo Romo says of Paredes, “but the other side to him is the fact that he’s had other careers. He’s respected as an excellent teacher. He’s trained a lot of the next generation of folklorists and cultural anthropologists.” In the mid-1970s, Joe Graham, an associate professor of anthropology at what was then Texas A&I University at Kingsville, turned down an opportunity to study for his Ph.D. in folklore at the University of Indiana, long considered the nation’s preeminent institution for folklore studies, so he could work under Paredes at U.T. “He is the ultimate gentleman scholar,” Graham says. “I never call him Americo, always Don Americo because of the respect I feel for him. Unfortunately, we don’t have a similar term in English.” As Graham sees it, it took recognition from the outside before the University of Texas belatedly recognized that this soft-spoken, gentle scholar in its midst was “el mero mero godfather of a new discipline, Chicano Studies, although he founded the Center for Intercultural Studies in Folklore and Ethnomusicology at UT, he did not receive the acknowledgement, financial and otherwise, that Graham, and others, believed was his due. One thing he did earn quickly was a reputation as a master teacher. In his undergraduate classes, he would bring in his guitar and sing and play the corrido, the decima, whatever piece of folk music the class was studying. “The thing that always impressed me about him,” Joe Graham says, “is that his students always came first. We’d write a 10or 12page report every week, and he’d always have it back to us the next week. “I remember how hard he worked us. A lot of people thought he was too demanding, but I’ll guarantee you, if you did what he told you to do, you’d learn an impressive amount.” Paredes became professor emeritus in 1984, but he has never stopped working. Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, with the familiarity of old friendship, puts it this way: “He’s frail, he’s deaf in both ears, but he just works all the time. He’s published four or five books since he’s retired.” Last year, Paredes began recording many of the corridos and canciones he has known since his childhood, hoping to pass them along to the singer/songwriter Tish Hinojosa, a musician he greatly admires. An Austin organization called Texas Folklife Resources awarded him an apprenticeship grant in hopes that his work with Hinojosa would keep the tradition alive. With his heart failing, his fingers stiffening and his voice growing weaker, Paredes feared it was a race against time to make sure that the songs he has stored in his memory would find new life and fresh interpretation at the hands of an artist who appreciated their significance. He has 88 songs in his repertoire he would like to pass along to Hinojosa. “She can choose what she wants and do whatever she wants with than,” Paredes says. “She can record them as they were, change them, whatever. That’s what always happens one generation to another.” On Sept. 16, with 33 songs recorded, Paredes entered the hospital to have a pacemaker installed. “I almost didn’t finish,” he says, “because I was completely out of breath. So my singing days are over. The ones I’ve done, I almost threw them away myself, they were so bad, particularly those that required a sustaining note.” I don’t have command of my voice. I didn’t have a very bad voice when I could sing, but that was a long time ago.” Hinojosa says just to visit with Don Americo is enough for her to hear the stories of his youth, to watch his fingers while he plays, to hear the origins of the music. “He’s a perfectionist,” she says. “He wants to make sure I do it right.” These days, Paredes is at home, slowly getting his strength back. He’s looking forward to a resumption of his work with Hinojosa, and he’s pleased that a new generation of scholars continues to explore the rich fields of inquiry he opened for them. The newly published collection of essays reflects the range and diversity of his work: ribald jokes and ethnic slurs, the rise and fall of the corrido, machismo in the United States and Mexico, how anthropologists and other scholars are led astray by their informarits, the clashof cultures in the Rio Grande Valley today. Assessing the breadth of that work, Bauman writes “that there is a deep and resonant unity in Americo Paredes’ life, his subject and his writing, but it is a unity of diversity, a conjunction of the borders.” At 78, Paredes reminisces about the generations passing, about the songs and letters and manuscripts that may be stored in old family trunks in the Rio Grande Valley. He gets to the Valley only rarely, and he can never stay long enough to do the work he has loved for a lifetime. That,’ perhaps, is his one regret: “There’s so much work still .. to do.” 18 OCTOBER 29, 1993