Music Professor Russell Rodriguez wins the Américo Paredes Prize

Rodriguez’s work on campus and with the local community has brought Mexican-American arts traditions to life

“To receive this award is a great honor,” says assistant professor of music Russell Rodriguez speaking about the Américo the Paredes Prize which he won in 2023. The prize was given by the American Folklore Society to reward scholars who invest in studying folklore and expanding cultural traditions.

This award was named for journalist and scholar Américo Paredes who spent his life living in Texas along the Mexico border. His work focused largely on the experiences of Mexican-Americans especially when it came to cultural heritage and traditions of folklore. The Paredes Prize aims to honor those whose work is cross-disciplinary, socially engaged, and fosters work in their community or culture.

Rodriguez has worked both with the University of California, Santa Cruz campus and the surrounding communities on projects that carry on the legacy of Chicanx arts traditions. He has helped compose music for local community theaters and worked with local Mariachi bands. “I did a lot of community work as a musician and I grew up working as a dancer and a musician,” says Rodriquez. “I would be at all the Chicano protests and rallies.”

Rodriguez also found the Mariachi band on the UC Santa Cruz campus which he formed in 2018.  Though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the work of the on-campus group he is excited to bring back performances, with an upcoming show on May 17th. Rodriguez also credits Dard Neuman, the Hasan Endowed Chair in Classical Indian Music, for encouraging him when he first came to campus.

He grew up learning Mariachi music and sees it as community oriented. “Working in mariachi is seeing all these convivial spaces in which families celebrate. We will play weddings, baptism, and funerals. We've come to understand that we have a really specific role in these communities,” he says. “Music and intercultural expression are important, not for the sense of entertainment, but the sense of engagement and establishing collective memory.”

Rodriguez is the 22nd winner of the Américo the Paredes Prize which was established in 2002. He is the second winner from UC Santa Cruz after Olga Nájera-Ramírez. 

"Russell is both an innovative scholar and a highly skilled musician who has acquired a deep and intimate knowledge of diverse cultural practices, particularly those of marginalized communities,” says the American Folklore Society when announcing Rodriguez as the prize winner. “His scope and depth of knowledge, talent, humor, and incredible modesty makes him an exceptional teacher, scholar, and colleague. His combination of theoretical sophistication and real-world engagement is especially inspiring and refreshing. As someone who has been a program manager for the Alliance for California for Traditional Arts, a scholar and teacher, and consultant and partner with the Smithsonian, and ever a practitioner, Russell’s distinguished academic performance is deeply connected to his community service, and well-deserving of the 2023 Paredes Prize."