Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature/Américo Paredes

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Américo Paredes[edit]

Brief Biography[edit]

Américo Paredes was born on September 3, 1915, in Brownsville, Texas. Paredes was born to Justo and Clotilde Paredes, and grew up experiencing both American and Mexican Culture. He was raised at a time where there was great border tension and violence, a result of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Paredes attended public school, when in high school he first encountered anti-Mexican discrimination and racism. One encounter being from his high school counselor, from whom he was told he would never go on to college. Paredes was almost deterred but was encouraged by one teacher, and upon winning first prize in a statewide poetry contest, he proceeded to enroll at Brownsville Junior College after high school in 1934. While in college, Paredes worked at The Brownsville Herald as a proofreader and reporter, he continued to work at this job even after graduating in 1936. There he was met with more discrimination, which influenced and led to Paredes’ lifelong fight against ethnic bias and discrimination.[1]

During World War II Paredes entered the U.S. army and was sent to Japan. In Japan, he was a journalist, reporting for the army publication Stars and Stripes, where he covered the war crime trials. Upon returning to the U.S., Paredes began working to fulfill his dream of becoming a professor of English. From the University of Texas, he would graduate summa cum laude, with his M.A. in English and Folklore Studies, continuing on to receive his Ph.D. in 1956. His dissertation, titled With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and its Hero, earned him widespread recognition and peer respect. He began teaching at Texas Western College, and later taught at The University of Texas at Austin. Paredes continued his ethnic activism, succeeding in convincing the administration at the university to authorize the creation of a center for Mexican American Studies, where he was named as the first director. Paredes was the first Mexican American to be recognized and receive the prestigious Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a lifetime devoted to a deeper understanding of the humanities. After his retirement, Paredes continued to research, write, and publish. A few of Paredes’ works include George Washington Gómez: A Mexicotexan Novel (1990), Uncle Remus con chile (1993), Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border (1995), and The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (1994). On May 5, 1999 Américo Paredes died after a lengthy illness.[2]

Place in Latina/o Literature[edit]

Américo Paredes was considered a pioneer in Chicano studies. He was one of the founders of the Chicano Studies movement during the 1960’s. Paredes wrote poetry and essays about Chicano culture. He devoted his scholarly life to exploring folklore, machismo, borderline stereotypes of mexicanos, and the culture of his home, Texas.[3] This devotion was based on his insistence of a distinctive culture having evolved where “the two cultures mingled and clashed.”[4]

Comparison to Other Latina/o Authors[edit]

In Américo Paredes’ “Marcaria’s Daughter,” Paredes uses the imagery of brutal violence. The justification and understanding for the culprit is also presented in a crime. Mac and Pete are the policemen investigating the murder of Tony’s wife, Marcela. One officer says to the other, “He tried to cut her head off” and “Geeze! There’s more’n thirty, forty cuts on that body”.[5] The Anglo police man continues by asking and telling Tony, the husband and culprit of the murder, “was she in love with another guy?,” “we all know why a man kills his wife”.[6] Paredes’s story provides the imagery of brutal violence that is unsettling. Along with providing justification and understanding for the culprit of the crime.

In Tomás Rivera’s “The Children Couldn’t Wait,” there is the imagery of brutal violence in a crime and the justification and understanding for the culprit is implied. In this story, field workers and their children are working in the heat. They must refrain from taking breaks to drink water, by the demands of their boss. The adults are able to obey, but the children cannot wait. The children continue taking breaks to drink from the water tank. The boss becomes furious and decides to give one boy a scare. He grabs his rifle, “He shot at him once to scare him but when he pulled the trigger he saw the boy with a hole in his head. And the child didn’t even jump like a deer does. He just stayed in the water like a dirty rag and the water began to turn bloody...”.[7] Upon this image of unjust brutal violence, the narrative presents sympathy and understanding for the boss. Rivera states, “They say that the old man almost went crazy.” “You think so?” “Yes, he’s already lost the ranch. He hit the bottle pretty hard. And then after they tried him and he got off free, they say he jumped off a tree cause he wanted to kill himself”.[8] This conversation offers understanding and even sympathy for the boss and his crime. Both Paredes’s and Rivera’s stories share instances of brutal violence and events that illustrate the power of patriarchy and hierarchy within culture.

Analysis of Specific Texts[edit]

In Américo Paredes’ “Marcaria’s Daughter” the reader enters a crime scene and is witness to the discovery and investigation of a brutal murder. The short story begins with the police heading to and entering a household, where we discover Tony, the man who has brutally stabbed his wife Marcela to death. Marcaria who is a former prostitute and shunned woman within the community is Marcela’s mother. Marcela being her daughter, is viewed in the community as the exact replica of her mother without ever committing any sin. From the point of view of the police officers and flashbacks of Marcela’s life, the reader is allowed to view the patriarchy taking place within the narrative.

Paredes provides the illustration of the present patriarchy between the police, Tony, and Marcela. Patriarchy is presented in the derogatory language used by the police while investigating the crime and confronting Tony. The police offer a sense of justification for Tony’s crime, they exhibit a sense of misogynist male power and sexualization of a victim provided within their narrative. The police speak of the crime in a manner exhibiting feelings of expectance and unimportance. Paredes states, “Mac went over to Tony and patted his shoulder. “Too bad, Tony,” he said. “Was she in love with another guy?”.[9]This narrative implies that her murder was expected and understandable at the hands of a jealous husband.

The narrative language used by the police provide sympathy for Tony, and understanding for why he killed his wife. The police man Mac tells Tony, “'Now, now,' Mac said, 'we all know why a man kills his wife'" and when examining Marcela’s dead body, “'Gosh,' he said, 'She must have been pretty'”.[10] The statements about knowing why a man kills his wife offers understanding for the culprit Tony and victimizes him instead of the murdered Marcela. Their language and remark about her beauty provide acceptance for her murder, as if her beauty meant that she must have undeniably been unfaithful to Tony, and Tony as her husband has the right to murder her in protecting his honor and proving his status as a man in the community.

Literary Criticism[edit]

In Ramón Saldívar’s The Borderlands of Culture Americo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary, Saldivar mentions Paredes’ “Marcaria’s Daughter.” Saldívar argues that Parades’ story deals with the power of sexuality and violence. Marcela, the victim murdered by her husband Tony is “constructed by her mother’s identity, (Marcaria’s identity as a woman of the night)”.[11] Saldívar argues that the story demonstrates the limitations enforced on Mexican and American women by a harsh and merciless patriarchal culture. Saldívar argues, “The young wife’s torn and mutilated form stabbed multiple times by Tony’s knife, thus becomes an extension of the symbology of women’s victimization and an adject mark of the dreadful power of abstact male ideologies of control through real violence”.[12] Tony does not wish to kill Marcela, he feels driven by the community’s contempt for Marcela and that drives him to kill her to exhibit and affirm his place as a man in the community and society.

Saldívar argues that Paredes’ story echos Frida Kahlo’s painting “Unos Cuantos Piquetitos!” meaning “a few small snips,” a painting that was inspired by a Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada. Posada who rendered a gruesome brutal murder of a woman at the hands of her husband was inspired by a real account appearing in a contemporary newspaper. Saldívar argues that Paredes' story echoes Kahlo’s “shocking indictment of male pornographic fantasies, linking violence and female sexuality in appalling imagery drawn from the Mexican popular imagination and its stereotyped images of what is meant 'to be a man'”.[13] Tony’s murder of Marcela is condoned by the destructive masculinist values of an entire community. There is a double social function, first is the lawmaking function, then the law-preserving function. Under these notions men’s violence is used as a means to preserve social order, and protect their notion's of fidelity, desire, and community, which lead to “catastrophic consequences for both women and men”.[14] In this case violence enforces the law. Paredes' indictment of male violence against women in both its lawmaking and law-preserving modes is evidently profound.

Links to Online Copies of Texts[edit]

Miscellaneous Links[edit]

Syllabi[edit]

Bibliography of Secondary Sources[edit]

  • 1. Saldívar, Ramón. The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, 2006. Print.
  • 2. Limón, José E. "Imagining The Imaginary: A Reply To Ramon Saldvíar." American Literary History 21.3 (2009): 595-603. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 June 2014.
  • 3. Briggs, Charles L. "What We Should Have Learned From Américo Paredes: The Politics Of Communicability And The Making Of Folkloristics." Journal Of American Folklore 125.495 (2012): 91-110. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 June 2014.
  • 4. Najera-Ramirez, Olga. "Of Fieldwork, Folklore, And Festival." Journal Of American Folklore 112.444 (1999): 183. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 June 2014.
  • 5. Parikh, Crystal. "Ethnic America Undercover: The Intellectual And Minority Discourse." Contemporary Literature 43.2 (2002): 249. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 June 2014.

References[edit]

  1. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/benson/paredes/biography.html
  2. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/benson/paredes/biography.html
  3. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/benson/paredes/biography.html
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/07/arts/americo-paredes-a-pioneer-in-chicano-studies-dies-at-83.html
  5. Paredes, Américo. The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories. Houston, TX: Arte Público, U of Houston, (1994): 24. Print.
  6. Paredes, Américo. The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories. Houston, TX: Arte Público, U of Houston, (1994): 24. Print.
  7. Rivera, Tomas. ...Y no se lo trago la tierra. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, (1992): 86-87. Print.
  8. Rivera, Tomas. ...Y no se lo trago la tierra. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, (1992): 87. Print.
  9. Paredes, Américo. The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories. Houston, TX: Arte Público, U of Houston, (1994): 24. Print.
  10. Paredes, Américo. The Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories. Houston, TX: Arte Público, U of Houston, (1994): 24-25. Print.
  11. Saldívar, Ramón. The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, (2006): 303. Print.
  12. Saldívar, Ramón. The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, (2006): 303. Print.
  13. Saldívar, Ramón. The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, (2006):305. Print.
  14. Saldívar, Ramón. The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, (2006): 307. Print.