James Nicolopulos 1945-2010

Good Bye Jaime!

One of my very best friends has departed this life and gone to the big Corrido conference up yonder! I hope those of you who knew him and live in the Bay Area will come to the Memorial on February 12th, 2011 as noted below. I will try to give my personal thoughts and remembrances at that gathering.

Right now I am still having a hard time realizing what an incredible loss his leaving us has been. Thanks, Jaime, for your incredible knowledge, enthusiasm, research work, delightful presence, trips to Mexico and la frontera when it was still joyful and civilized, the Corrido conferences, the trips to Redwood City to hear Los Campesinos de Michoacán, documenting Lydia and the Mendoza family, the great times in East Oakland with Los Gavilanes de Oakland, eating “real” mole verde in DF, I could go on forever – this guy was totally unique – one of a kind if there ever was one! Adios! — Chris Strachwitz 12/15/2010

James Robert (Jaime) Nicolopulos Born Aug. 22nd, 1945 in Berkeley, CA to Thomas J. and Sarah Nicolopulos. Passed away Dec. 1st, 2010 in Austin, TX from complications of biliary duct cancer, surrounded by loving family, colleagues, and friends. Professor at University of Texas, Austin since 1992, after receiving his Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages & Literatures at U.C., Berkeley that year.

Prof. Nicolopulos, affectionately known as “Jaime,” was an eminent scholar in the fields of Renaissance Hispanic and Colonial Latin American poetics, and was also widely esteemed for his monumental and original contributions to the study of the Mexican and “Border” genre of topical ballads known as corridos. Since the 1980s he collaborated closely on many corrido & border music-related projects with renowned researcher, collector, archivist, and publisher of American vernacular music, Chris Strachwitz, his Arhoolie record label, the Arhoolie Foundation, and the Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito, CA. He was active not only in his home department, Spanish & Portuguese, but in the Center for Mexican American Studies as well. He often returned to his alma mater, UC Berkeley, as a visiting faculty member. Prof. Nicolopulos was a creative pioneer who early on integrated the internet into his teaching, starting with his first academic website in 1996. Prof. Nicolopulos is fondly remembered by his colleagues and by his wide circle of friends as an irrepressible spirit, a loyal & caring friend, raconteur par excellence, and a generous and tireless mentor.

Born while his father was at sea in the South Pacific aboard a WWII  Liberty Ship like those he had earlier helped build, his mother had recently finished library school. After the war the family settled in the Montclair District of Oakland, CA where Jaime attended public schools. Jaime’s father became Supervisor of the California State Conciliation Service, where as a civil servant he acted as a widely respected mediator in high-profile labor disputes. Tom Nicolopulos was an accomplished linguist and amateur scholar who read ancient Greek and Latin, as well as a noted authority on U.S. labor history. Jaime later recalled that his passion for the study of epic poetry began early with the experience of sitting by while Tom recited The Odyssey aloud. Sarah too was well read & possessed a keen intellect, and was an early and staunch activist in the consumer rights movement.

As a U. C. Berkeley student at the time of the Free Speech Movement, Jaime was not immune to the influences of the chaotic atmosphere in what was the epicenter of the emerging counter-culture revolution. He dropped out before graduating, despite having won such honors as a National Defense Scholarship to study Arabic at a Harvard summer program. For many years he lived a bohemian and often adventurous life in California and the West, as well as making several extended and rugged journeys deep into Mexico and Central America, living rough in very remote places among local indigenous and mestizo people. His most extended sojourn was several years spent with his first wife, deep in the Yucatan near the as-yet-undeveloped site of Ruinas Tulum, where he was for a time factotum of a coconut plantation belonging to an elderly Mayan lady.
After his return to the U.S. and the 1976 birth of his son, his marriage eventually ended and he felt adrift. Alone, broke, without a résumé, and nearly 40 years old, he resolved to re-invent himself and continue his education. Working nights as a taxi driver he re-enrolled at UC Berkeley and immediately began to distinguish himself. With the priceless mentoring of the late Prof. José Durand, Prof. Ignacio Navarette, and his dissertation director, the eminent Prof. Emilie Bergmann, he finally received his doctorate. Shortly thereafter he began his career at U.T. Austin and married a colleague, Christina Barber, Ph.D. of Berkeley, his loving companion for the rest of his life.

Jaime is survived by wife Christina, of Austin, son Tasho, of San Francisco, CA, brother Peter, of Oakland, niece Tai, of San Francisco, and former wife Earlanne, (“Chipper”) of Cape Canaveral, FL. A celebration of his life will be held at St. Alban’s Church, 1501 Washington Street, Albany CA, on February 12th, 2011 at 1:00 PM.