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Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border

Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border
Edited by Richard Bauman

This book brings Paredes's scholarly essays to a wider readership.

Center for Mexican American Studies
April 1995
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317 pages | 6 x 9 |

In an illustrious career spanning over forty years, Américo Paredes has often set the standard for scholarship and writing in folklore and Chicano studies. In folklore, he has been in the vanguard of important theoretical and methodological movements. In Chicano studies, he stands as one of the premier exponents.

Paredes's books are widely known and easily available, but his scholarly articles are not so familiar or accessible. To bring them to a wider readership, Richard Bauman has selected eleven essays that eloquently represent the range and excellence of Paredes's work. The hardcover edition of Folklore and Culture was published in 1993. This paperback edition will make the book more accessible to the general public and more practical for classroom use.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part One. The Social Base and the Negotiation of Identity
  • 1. The Folklore of Groups of Mexican Origin in the United States [1979]
  • 2. The Problem of Identity in a Changing Culture: Popular Expressions of Culture Conflict along the Lower Rio Grande Border [1978]
  • 3. Folk Medicine and the Intercultural jest [1968]
  • 4. On Ethnographic Work among Minority Groups: A Folklorist's Perspective [1977]
  • Part Two. The Folklore Genres: History, Form, and Performance
  • 5. Some Aspects of Folk Poetry [1964]
  • 6. The Mexican Corrido: Its Rise and Fall [1958]
  • 7. The Concept of the Emotional Core Applied to the Mexican Corrido "Benjamin Argumedo" [1972]
  • 8. José Mosqueda and the Folklorization of Actual Events [1973]
  • 9. The United States, Mexico, and Machismo [1971]
  • 10. The Décima on the Texas-Mexican Border: Folksong as an Adjunct to Legend [1966]
  • 11. The Undying Love of "El Indio" Córdova: Décimas and Oral History in a Border Family [1987]
  • Notes
  • Bibliography: The Scholarly Writings of Américo Paredes

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Américo Paredes's richly textured collection of folksongs of the Lower Border, A Texas-Mexican Cancionero (1976), is dedicated

To the memory of my mother who could sing a song or two;
and to all the other singers of the Border,
who left part of themselves in my keeping.

In this dedicatory poem and elsewhere in the introduction to the Cancionero, one feels a clear sense of the formative effect of this Border folk legacy on Paredes and of the moral and esthetic responsibility it engendered in him.

How to fulfill such a responsibility? One possibility is to sing the songs yourself, passing them on through performance as they were passed down to you. Another way is to answer the songs of the traditional singers with songs of your own; or to record and publish the songs as a means of preserving and presenting them; or to study the songs and the singers, to interpret them to others. Américo Paredes has done all of this and more. In his younger years, in the 1930s, he was a popular singer on the border and the author of evocative poetry that responded to the voice of Border tradition. Since then, as a scholar, he has carried out extensive field research and published a considerable body of Border folklore, and he has produced the most important and influential scholarship of our generation on the folklore of Greater Mexico in general and of the Lower Border in particular. His lifelong achievements have brought him many well-deserved honors, most recently the highly prestigious Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Order of the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican government. They have also brought him other, less conventional validations of his work—of which he seems equally proud—as when a Texas Ranger threatened him with violence on the publication of With His Pistol in His Hand (1958). "Must be doing something right," he says.

A collection of Paredes's poetry has recently been published, as has his long-awaited novel, and his scholarship in book form is widely known and relatively accessible. Less well known, however, and more difficult of access are his scholarly writings in article form. This collection, then, is presented in the interest of bringing some of Américo Paredes's most significant scholarly articles to a wider public. The selection process was difficult; a number of the editor's favorites could not be included, and those familiar with Paredes's work will doubtless miss still others. Nevertheless, the eleven articles included in this collection should give the reader a clear sense of the problems that have engaged Américo Paredes's intellect and of the rigor, elegance, and staying power of his scholarship. For those whose appetite is whetted by this selection and who wish to read further, a bibliography of the scholarly writings of Américo Paredes, compiled by Linda Kinsey Adams, is appended to this work.

Like the tequileros, sediciosos, and ordinary people of the border region from which he came and about which he writes, Paredes's scholarship cannot be contained by official boundaries. Life on a border can be tense, risky, dangerous, and filled with ambiguities, but it can also be energizing, with the potential to induce a depth of reflexivity and a breadth of perspective that the safety of the heartland seldom affords. This is as true of the intellectual borderlands between disciplines as it is of political borders. Paredes is claimed variously as a folklorist, an anthropologist, a literary scholar, and a social historian. One might say that he is all of these or, better, that his scholarship transcends such narrow categories. So integrative and transdisciplinary is his work, in fact, that an outline of its principal themes and perspectives may be useful as an orientation to the essays that follow.

From the beginning of his career, Américo Paredes's deepest interest has centered on the folklore and culture of the area he has termed the Lower Rio Grande Border, the region on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border from the two Laredos downriver to the Gulf. This is his home territory, resonant with personal as well as scholarly meaning, from his youth in Brownsville and from a lifetime of visits and scholarly engagement. It is important to emphasize that Paredes's intense focus on his native region never descends to a provincial narrowness of focus. One essential reason for this is that his work on the Lower Border is always—tacitly or explicitly—contextualized by a deep knowledge of Greater Mexico, a term that Paredes has coined to comprehend both "México de Adentro" and "México de Afuera," the former encompassed by the political borders of the Republic of Mexico, the latter taking in all those other parts of North America where people of Mexican descent have established a presence and have maintained their Mexicanness as a key part of their cultural identity. Parts of East Chicago and Detroit belong to Greater Mexico, together with Monterrey and Mexico City and migrant worker camps in Bakersfield. "The Folklore of Groups of Mexican Origin in the United States" (chap. 1) makes clear the productiveness of this broadly extended vision. With this breadth of perspective, extended still further by the folklorist's more global comparative frame of reference, Paredes is never drawn to parochial claims about mexicano folklore and culture of the kind made by Mexican folklorists who see the Lower Border as a fringe area of Mexico, or by North American scholars who see the Hispanic Southwest as a folk cultural region of the United States, or by the Hispanophile scholars of northern New Mexican folklore who construct their region as a preserve of old Peninsular culture. In significant part, it is Paredes's comparative and contextual perspective that makes his work on the Lower Border so persuasive and authoritative, despite the characteristic modesty with which he advances many of his findings. While the predominant focus of this collection is on the folklore and culture of the Lower Border, consistent with Paredes's life and career, the volume also includes several essays that reflect his interest in Greater Mexico more generally, and one, "The United States, Mexico, and Machismo" (chap. 9), that develops a comparison between Mexico and the United States.

While Paredes sees himself and is recognized and honored as part of the community of scholars dedicated to illuminating the folklore of Greater Mexico, the richness and power of his scholarship, as noted, stems most strongly from his lifelong intellectual, artistic, and social engagement with the Lower Border. His work is an exemplary vindication of that premise on which the best of folklore and anthropology is built: that a deep, detailed, nuanced understanding of the local will illuminate and inspire a more global vision. What Américo Paredes tells us about the corrido, for example, can illuminate all of ballad scholarship, inspire a literary movement, inform a political ideology, and more.

A significant part of Paredes's contribution stems from his conceptualization of the Lower Border itself. As a cultural region, the Lower Border, as Paredes outlines its contours in his work, is a historical emergent, the product of a complex and turbulent development. Originally part of Nuevo Santander, a province of New Spain founded in 1749 to fill the gap between the established population centers of Tampico and Monterrey to the south and the Texas colony to the north, the area along the banks of the Rio Grande was from the beginning a place of inbetween existence. After 1835, the people of the region found themselves under increasing pressure from the southward encroachment of Anglo expansionism. In the decade that followed, the Anglo-Mexican border region was relatively inchoate, but the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 had a decisive shaping effect on the region. By establishing the Rio Grande, formerly the focus of regional life, as the national border between Mexico and the United States, the treaty made the river "a symbol of separation" and left a Mexican population stranded in an alien country, though with firmly established ties on the opposite bank, only a shout or a short swim away. The responses of the border Mexicans to the marginal existence thus forced upon them have been the dominant focus of Paredes's career.

The Lower Border, then, as Paredes characterizes it in "The Problem of Identity in a Changing Culture" (chap. 2) and elsewhere in his writings, is preeminently a contact zone, a region in which different cultures come face to face. It is thus fundamentally heterogeneous, defined by forces of social differentiation—ethnicity, class, language, power. Historically, the tenor of the contact, its dominant relational temper, has been one of conflict, engendered by the enforced domination of Anglos over a subject people. From the vantage point of the Texas-Mexicans, however, while survival has demanded some degree of accommodation, this accommodation has been tempered by currents of resistance to Anglo domination and by a struggle—psychological, expressive, social—to negotiate an identity in this environment of conflict. One constituent of this culture of conflict, and an instrument for the waging of the struggle itself, is a body of folklore: corridos, ethnic slurs, legends, jokes, proverbs. And while part of the overall folklore repertoire of Texas-Mexicans has been shared with other parts of Greater Mexico, what renders the folklore of the Lower Border distinctive is precisely the generative power of the struggle.

In his documentation and study of Border folklore, Américo Paredes has focused on both the widely shared and the locally rooted aspects of the repertoire. He has recorded the traditional romances sung on the border, for example, ballads descended from the old romancero that is part of the Hispanic legacy in New Spain, and he has given us some of our most illuminating studies of the décima, perhaps the most widely distributed form of folk poetry in the Western Hemisphere. Challenges abound in this work, as I will suggest a bit later, but it is in his writings on the Texas-Mexican folklore of resistance that the true boldness and power of his scholarship stand out most clearly. In order to comprehend why this should be so, it is necessary to understand how Paredes's conception of Border culture has challenged prevailing notions of folklore and what the ideological implications of his revisionist views have been.

In the two hundred years or so since the invention of the notion of folklore, the predominant conception of the folk, the social base of folklore, has been of a bounded, homogeneous, unsophisticated, traditionoriented group sharing a common language and a collective body of vernacular knowledge, custom, oral tradition, and the like. The weight of emphasis in such constructions has fallen upon group-internal, shared ways of life; group homogeneity has been taken as the touchstone of folklore. Borders, as might be expected, have had a limited place in such models, perceived as barriers to diffusion, perhaps, or as zones in which heroic ballads or epics grew out of hostile face-offs on military frontiers, as between Greeks and Turks, Spaniards and Moors, English and Scots. Such border forms, however, have had little influence on the mainstream of folklore theory. Functionalist perspectives in anthropology, moreover, have reinforced the within-group frame of reference on which traditionalist folklore theory has rested, and emphasized the role of folklore in sustaining group equilibrium and the maintenance of the social system.

In the face of such deeply rooted foundational ideas concerning folklore and the folk, Américo Paredes's conception of Texas-Mexican Border society and folklore has offered a markedly revisionist view. In place of an understanding of folklore as founded on group homogeneity and operating within the boundaries of the group to maintain its social equilibrium, Paredes offers a far more subtle and complex picture. Certain elements of the Texas-Mexican repertoire, as noted, are part of the shared traditions of Greater Mexico, but this is only half the picture, for a significant portion of the repertoire, the most distinctive portion, is generated by the stark social oppositions of the border region, a response to differential—not shared—identity. Moreover, the generating force out of which such folklore emerges is conflict, struggle, and resistance, and the folklore operates as an instrument of this conflict, not in the service of systems maintenance. This is a bold challenge to traditionalist understandings, and to the extent that it has gained ground among folklorists in recent decades, Paredes's acknowledged influence as teacher, colleague, and author has been clear and significant.

Nor has Paredes's contribution been limited in this respect to folklore theory, for traditionalist understandings of folklore have significant ideological and political implications as well. If one examines the history of folkloristic and anthropological study of Mexican American folklore and culture, for example, one discovers that conventional, consensus models have sustained and promulgated a particularly problematic image. In essence, traditionalist portrayals of Mexican American regional folk cultures have tended to give us constructions either of cultural relic areas that have preserved traces of Peninsular or classic Mexican folklore, or of regional enclaves of simple, fatalistically accepting and docile folk, quaintly backward in their customs and beliefs. There is no conflict to be found in this literature. The difficult truth is that for all the liberating potential of folklore study to illuminate the power of vernacular culture in resistance to oppression, the discipline has been all too susceptible to serving as an instrument of hegemonic containment by promulgating an image of the folk as romantically quaint, simple, anachronistic, and colorful at best, debased and backward at worst. Paredes's writings have offered an eloquent counterstatement, documenting and valorizing a culture and tradition of resistance, of standing up for one's rights in defiance of the forces of domination. The corridos that Paredes's research has brought to full public view—celebrating the defiant and heroic exploits of Gregorio Cortez and Jacinto Treviño, the sediciosos of Aniceto Pizaña, and even the tequilero smugglers of the border—thus not only have provided a foundation for new theoretical perspectives, but more importantly they have constituted powerful symbolic and ideological resources for the Chicano political movement, a ground on which to reject the imputation of fatalistic accommodation. It is all too rare that academic scholars in the United States contribute significantly to movements for political liberation by the inspiration of their scholarship—or care to—and Américo Paredes is justly celebrated and revered for the inspiration he has provided.

One corollary of Américo Paredes's understanding of the Lower Border as a contact zone, a place shaped by the confluence—and conflict—of cultures and the struggle of identities, is a special sensitivity to the multiplicity of voices and ideologies striving for expression in Border folklore. Paredes's ear is open to them all, and this receptivity in turn has had a formative influence on his approach to the generic forms that constitute the repertoire of conflict-the slurs and insults, the proverbs, the songs, the stories. Paredes is always attuned to the dialogic resonances of Border genres, both insofar as they incorporate multiple voices within themselves and as they interact with each other in use and through time to constitute larger expressive systems. These are not the self-contained and mutually exclusive genres of conventional genre theory in folklore, rooted in homogeneous folk communities, but the sorts of multivocalic, interpenetrating, and blended forms that one should expect from a heteroglossic culture of conflict.

Among the symbolic forms that give expression to border conflict, none has captured Paredes's attention more strongly than the corrido, and no scholar has done more toward illuminating the essence and capacity of this ballad form than he in his celebrated books With His Pistol in His Hand and A Texas-Mexican Cancionero, as well as in a series of essays, four of which are included in this volume (chaps. 6, 7, 8, 9). Part of the essence of the corrido of border conflict, as Paredes identifies it, is the dialogic face-off between the defiant hero and the cowardly agents of Anglo power—the rinches (Texas Rangers), sheriffs, and the likerendered as direct discourse.

Decía Gregorio Cortez
con su pistola en la mano:
—No corran rinches cobardes
con un puro mexicano.

Decían los americanos
—Si lo hallamos øqué le haremos?
Si le entramos por derecho
muy poquitos volveremos.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
with his pistol in his hand,
"Don't run, you cowardly rangers,
from a real Mexican."

Then the Americans said,
"If we find him, what shall we do?
If we fight him man to man
very few of us will return."

Here the forces of oppression are contained by the Texas-Mexican community; both voices are heard in the corrido, but the hierarchical tables are turned as the Americans are cowed by the "real Mexican."

As is characteristic of Paredes's work, one major frame of reference for his study of the corrido is historical, relating the external history of the border region to the origin and evolution of the genre. The historical study of the corrido as a form confronts the scholar with problematic continuities and discontinuities. Clearly the corrido has basic affinities with the classic Spanish romance, which was undeniably present in New Spain, including the border region (though never, apparently, very prominent in the Mexican folksong tradition on the border or elsewhere). What is one to make, then, of the apparent paucity of corridos before the 1860s as against the burgeoning of the genre from the 1880s onward? In Paredes's view, while the corrido as a form is descended largely from the romance (though with significant formal changes along the way), the emergence of a full-blown corrido tradition cannot be explained in terms of continuities with the romance, for the essence of the corrido lies in more than its form alone. For Paredes, the true corrido tradition centers around a spirit of heroic bravado, of defiant manly selfconfidence, and this spirit is rooted in the emergent sense of Mexican nationalism "stirred into life by the war with the United States and the French invasion and developed slowly but steadily during the thirty years of Porfirio Díaz's rule, coming into flower with the Revolution." In this light, and by appeal as well to the documentable record of corrido production very early in the Greater Mexican corrido period, Paredes argues that the border conflict of the 1850s might well have been the seedbed of the true corrido tradition: "The Lower Border produces its first corrido hero, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, in the late 1850s" (page 140, this volume).

Origins, however, represent only part of Paredes's concern with the developmental trajectory of the corrido; the subsequent evolution of the genre and the tradition is fully as important. Paredes traces the corrido genre from its first coalescence in the mid-nineteenth century through a series of stages that culminated in the epic period of development from 1910 to 1930, followed by a subsequent period of decline from 1930 to the present as the corrido was sentimentalized and otherwise transformed by the Mexican mass media. He notes, however, that vestiges of the older spirit show through from time to time even in our own day. This historical characterization applies to the corrido tradition as a whole, but Paredes's examination of the genre is not limited to the macroscopic tracing of the corrido's evolutionary trajectory. On a more closely focused level, with regard to the life-course of individual corridos, Paredes has identified a developmental process with truly important implications for genre theory in general, namely, the interrelationship between the corrido and the corrido legend.

The corrido legend is a prose narrative that centers around the same figures and events as the ballad; in characteristic legend fashion, different legends may cluster around the same event complex, occasioned or prompted in the telling by different points of reference in the ongoing interaction: reference to a place, a person, a treasure, or the like. Paredes summarizes the relationship thus:

Characteristically, the corrido of border conflict is realistic in tone. It exaggerates what it takes for fact, but it always gives us scenes taken from real life. The corrido legend, on the other hand, is more romantic, though it does not often make use of the marvelous. (page 194, this volume)

There is a complex dynamic in operation here, whereby different modes of folkloric discourse, different ways of giving expression to events, are interrelated in use and condition one another's development. If one makes even finer generic and stylistic distinctions—as between, say, the corrido of the outlaw type and the corrido of border conflict, or between the legend style and the style of the wonder tale, as they are variously used in giving voice to different personal and ideological perspectives on the "same" events—one may discover still more subtle dimensions of systemic interrelationship among genres. Paredes's "José Mosqueda and the Folklorization of Actual Events" (chap. 8) is a tour de force in this regard.

A process in some ways similar, in some ways different, operates on the décima. Like the corrido, the décima is an inherently dialogic genre, but while the corrido renders opposing voices as quoted speech, the décima is built on the exchange of verses by two parties, characteristically in a tone of challenge and competition. Paredes's essay "The Undying Love of 'El Indio' Córdova" (chap. 11) presents an evocative account of such an exchange between the patriarch of a border family and the outsider suitor of his daughter—another manifestation of differential identity. Here again, as throughout Paredes's work, close attention to history adds nuance and texture to the explication of the folklore texts.

Like the corrido, the décima as a genre exists in close interrelationship with legend. As Paredes elucidates the process in "The Décima on the Texas-Mexican Border: Folksong as an Adjunct to Legend" (chap. 10), the décima—which flourished on the border before being largely displaced by the corrido by the end of the nineteenth century—retained a place in the repertoire by becoming embedded in a particular class of folk narratives.

One must look for the legendary anecdote in order to find them. An incident is related, usually humorous, about some supposedly historical personage. Then some décimas are recited or sung, capping the narrative. The story is always that the main character in the anecdote composed the décimas as a result of the experiences just related. The décima, for so long a gloss to a quatrain, thus becomes a gloss or commentary in another sense. (pages 239-240, this volume)

But whereas it is the singing of the corrido that characteristically prompts the telling of a legend by way of further elaboration, when it comes to the décima it is the other way around: the reciting of the décima serves as a cap to an antecedent narrative.

Paredes carries the problem of generic interrelationships in still another direction in his "Folk Medicine and the Intercultural Jest" (chap. 3). In local terminology, the jests explicated in this essay are tallas, humorous anecdotes that are frequently personalized by being told as having happened to someone present or to one of their relatives and that are responded to in kind. The stories under examination, however, turn out to be parodies—dialogic forms par excellence—of another widespread narrative genre, the caso, a type of belief tale about a folk medical practitioner, or curandero, whose traditional healing practices succeed where modern (Anglo) scientific medicine cannot. The caso parodies, told by successful Texas-Mexican professionals, mock the practice of the curanderos and the credulity of their patients, yet with a certain sympathy for their endurance, humor, and moral strength. Here is another instance in which the exploration of systemic interrelationships between genres is fundamental to a full understanding of their social meaning, in this instance as vehicles for the negotiation of identity. The generically ambiguous narratives test the fine line between rejection and acceptance of elements of what it means to be a Texas-Mexican on the border.

Paredes's subtle explication of the intercultural jests rests centrally on two critical dimensions of contextualization, namely, the social identity of the performers and the dynamics of the situational context in which the stories are told. The social meaning of these double-voiced narratives is understandable only as a function of their social use in context; they are told by middle-class professionals, deeply rooted in Border society and culture yet distanced in significant ways from those roots, and they emerge within a situational context that selects for humorous expressions of and responses to the social and psychological conflict of border life.

We find similar close attention to performers and contexts of use throughout Paredes's writings, especially in "The Concept of the Emotional Core Applied to the Mexican Corrido 'Benjamin Argumedo"' (chap. 7), "José Mosqueda and the Folklorization of Actual Events" (chap. 8), and the two related articles on the décima (chaps. 10, 11). This analytical focus on the social identity of performers and situational contexts of use, together with the understanding of genre as a flexible expressive resource, marks Paredes's work as part of the movement toward a performance-centered folkloristics that has burgeoned over the past fifteen or twenty years. In point of fact, Paredes's scholarship has been of foundational importance in this development. While his seminal contribution to performance-oriented analysis as coeditor of Toward New Perspectives in Folklore (1972) has been widely acknowledged, his influence goes back even further, at least to the 1964 article "Some Aspects of Folk Poetry" (chap. 5), a pioneering work linking form explicitly to performance, that had a strong influence on the subsequent scholarship of the University of Texas folklorists who have been closely identified with performance-oriented folkloristics.

In my view, however, Paredes's most eloquent and penetrating contribution to the study of performance and its wider applications is his essay "On Ethnographic Work among Minority Groups: A Folklorist's Perspective" (chap. 4). In this article, Paredes mobilizes all of the power of his knowledge of performance—social identity, situational context, expressive voice, communicative framing, and more—in a trenchantly reflexive critique of anthropological and folkloristic practice. The primary target of his critique is the literature on Greater Mexican—especially Texas-Mexican—society and culture, a literature riddled with interpretive inaccuracies that are deeply consequential not only in scholarly terms but in terms of the politics of culture. How is it, Paredes asks, that the work of apparently well-intentioned liberal scholars, generally fluent in Spanish, can go so astray, perpetuating damaging stereotypes that serve the interests of containment and domination? As I have suggested, this is an issue that Paredes has addressed from a number of vantage points throughout his career, but "On Ethnographic Work among Minority Groups" zeroes in on a new dimension of the problem, namely, the naively literalist referential bias of positivist ethnographic practice: asking people for facts and assuming that they will give you straight answers. What Paredes is able to show, by adducing example after example, is that the ethnographic encounter—yet another intercultural dialogue—is communicatively far more complex than has been acknowledged, and that the discourse of ethnographic subjects may well be shaped by other communicative motivations than acceding to the ethnographer's standards of truth value and expectations of straightforward responses. The ethnographic encounter invites the display of communicative skill, a touchstone of performance, just as the asymmetrical relationship between the "native informant" and the outsider ethnographer may invite joking, or leg-pulling, or circumspection, or playing to stereotypes—saying what the researcher expects to hear and then some. Taking such communication at face value will lead to just the kinds of ethnographic howlers that Paredes finds in the anthropological literature on Greater Mexico. This illumination of the expressive shaping of the ethnographic encounter is the essential contribution of "a folklorist's perspective," or, more specifically, of a performance-oriented folklorist's perspective, in which the getting and giving of information, the patterns and functions of speaking in society and culture, are themselves the focus of ethnographic investigation, to be discovered rather than assumed a priori.

Nor are the implications of Paredes's argument relevant to the ethnographic study of Greater Mexican culture alone; witness the recent critiques of Margaret Mead's classic Coming of Age in Samoa based on the recollection of one of her key informants that she and her fellows responded to Mead's probing questions about their sex lives by making up titillating answers they thought she would like, in the time-honored Samoan tradition of expressive leg-pulling. Taken in its broadest terms, "On Ethnographic Work among Minority Groups" is about all ethnographic work: if you aren't attuned to the ways that people perform, joke, play, or otherwise frame and manipulate what they say, your ethnographic study of any subject—not just folklore—is susceptible to radical distortion.

So central are the twin themes of multiple languages and multiple voices in Américo Paredes's studies of Texas-Mexican folklore that no commentary on his work would be complete without mention of the play of these same factors in his own writing, for the in-betweenness of his native Lower Border has marked his scholarly production no less than the folklore to which he has devoted his careen t First and most obviously, Paredes writes in both English and Spanish, for his scholarly constituency extends throughout the Western Hemisphere; the Rio Grande border, after all, links the United States not only with Mexico but with all of Latin America. For practical reasons, this collection of Paredes's writings is confined largely to articles published in English, the language of the academic milieu in which Paredes has spent his professional life. We have been able to include, however, one essay heretofore published only in Spanish, "The Concept of the Emotional Core in the Mexican Corrido `Benjamin Argumedo"' (chap. 7). Paredes has also assumed at times the role of interpreter between United States and Latin American folklorists, publishing several articles that introduce the respective scholarly communities to each other (see the Paredes bibliography at the end of this volume).

Paredes writes not only in different languages but also in multiple voices. His scholarship is a richly textured expressive fabric, not at all confined to the standard expository prose and the we-they oppositions of conventional folkloric and anthropological scholarship. There is, to be sure, a fair share of expository prose in Paredes's writings, but it is a prose whose seriousness is constantly tempered by irony, Paredes's favorite critical trope, his own intercultural jest that simultaneously employs the discourse of mainstream scholarship and subverts it. Then, too, the expository prose alternates in Paredes's scholarly writings with dedicatory lyric poems, recollections of personal experiences, songs from his own repertoire, legends recast and retold from the tellings of others, and other styles and genres. As for we-they oppositions, there are certainly plenty in Paredes's work, including we the scholars and they the Texas-Mexicans, but often Paredes crosses the border, and it is we the Texas-Mexicans against the Anglo scholars.

Which is all to say, in the end, that there is a deep and resonant unity in Américo Paredes's life, his subject, and his writing, but it is a unity of diversity, a conjunction of the borders. And when you can balance the ambiguities, survive the conflict, and command the resources and repertoires of both sides of the border and the contact culture itself, as Américo Paredes has done, the result is inspired and inspiring writing. That is what you will find in the pages that follow.



“Vintage Paredes—at once erudite and clear, scholarly and accessible.... It could serve the general reader as an interesting, accessible introduction to this unique Texas scholar who, in Bauman’s words, ‘has produced the most important and influential scholarship of our generation on the folklore of Greater Mexico in general and the Lower Border in particular.’ ...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 informants, the clash of cultures in the Rio Grande Valley today.”
Texas Observer