Project delves into Paredes’ Cold War journals

Noreen Rivera, an associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is quietly pulling back the curtain on a period in Américo Paredes’ life when the Brownsville-born scholar worked as a journalist in the Far East during the U.S. occupation of Japan at the dawn of the Cold War after World War II.

Paredes, who lived from 1915-1999, was a folklorist, scholar and professor at the University of Texas at Austin who is widely acknowledged as one of the most important Mexican-American scholars of the 20th century.

Rivera is a literary historian who received her PhD at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 2014. Her research involves recovering important texts and oral literature from Mexican Americans that have been forgotten or marginalized, she said via email with The Brownsville Herald. She teaches on the UTRGV campuses in Edinburg and Brownsville, was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and has longstanding roots here, her great-grandfather having been born in Brownsville in 1865.

“ I believe it is highly important to study, teach and read Mexican-Amercan/Chicanx literature, especially in our region, to better understand the history, lived experiences and contributions by Mexican Americans, subjects which regularly are lacking as part of the standard Texas public school curriculum,” she said in the email.

Rivera recently received a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies for a project involving Paredes’ Far East journals and other Cold War era writings. Paredes left the journals as part of his archive, held in the Latin American Collection at UT-Austin.

Her book in progress is titled “The Far East Journals of Americo Paredes and other Cold War Writings, 1945-1956.” It is under contract to the Michigan State University Press.

She said the book is about nine months away. At present she is transcribing the journals, about half of which are typed, the rest written out in cursive longhand. Rivera is adding notations of historical context.

She is also writing a critical introduction, which will run 30-40 pages. The journals themselves total 358 pages, she said.

“ He left this manuscript in his archive. They’re ripe, they’re ready, they’re his unfiltered thought,” she said of the journals.

Rivera said the journals begin in Shanghai, China, are set mostly in U.S. occupied Japan, and end in El Paso, where Paredes took his first job as a professor at Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso.

“ He witnesses the building blocks of the Cold War in Manchuria a year and a half before China falls and he’s leery of what might happen. … He gets reassigned to Tokyo, gets a position with the Troop Information Program Service magazine essentially writing propaganda. … He learns to navigate MacArthur’s Japan and he learns how to navigate the conservative culture of his time. It’s a beautiful intimate portrait and autobiographical writing at its finest,” she said of the journals.