FROM THE PAGE: An excerpt from Noé Álvarez’s Accordion Eulogies

By Coll Rowe | May 10 2024 | College & University ReadsAll-School ReadsCommunity Reads

Searching, propulsive, and deeply spiritual, Accordion Eulogies is an odyssey to repair a severed family lineage, told through the surprising history of a musical instrument.

Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez never knew his grandfather. Stories swirled around this mythologized, larger-than-life figure: That he had abandoned his family, and had possibly done something awful that put a curse on his descendants. About his grandfather, young Noé was sure of only one thing: That he had played the accordion. Now an adult, reckoning with the legacy of silence surrounding his family’s migration from Mexico, Álvarez resolves both to take up the instrument and to journey into Mexico to discover the grandfather he never knew.

Álvarez travels across the US with his accordion, meeting makers and players in cities that range from San Antonio to Boston. He uncovers the story of an instrument that’s been central to classic American genres, but also played a critical role in indigenous Mexican history. Like the accordion itself, Álvarez feels trapped between his roots in Mexico and the U.S. As he tries to make sense of his place in the world—as a father, a son, a musician—he gets closer to uncovering the mystery of his origins.

 

I am hounded by the specter of a grandfather I never really knew. He was a migrant and a traveling musician propelled by the songs that clamored in his chest. A man who gambled his lands away and left his wife and son to go hungry. After his disappearance, my grandmother died, leaving her young son—my father—homeless in Mexico.

My father was deeply bruised by this abandonment, this subjection to suffering at such a young age. It diminished his trust in others, calloused his heart, and made him, in many ways,  more distant than the stars. My grandfather’s absence echoed through the generations, altering my childhood as well as my father’s. For years, he has lived without closure. I’ve spent my life fruitlessly trying to close his hurt for him.

Because my grandfather was not present in our lives, I grew up unable to make him answer for the childhoods he denied us. I could never confront him for stripping my father of his ability to express love toward himself and his children in the way we needed. I yearned to tell my grandfather of the great man my father became in his absence, who migrated from Mexico to Yakima stricken with fear and made a family there; of the warrior I have become in the aftermath of my grandfather’s mess, raised by the son my grandfather neglected. I longed to show him that what I am today stems entirely from my father’s hard lessons and that nothing about the previous generation lives inside me.

But this would be a lie. Something of my grandfather is alive inside of me, I know, and it grows stronger every day—an inheritance of the accordion, dark shadows, and the impulse to be always on the move.

Copyright © 2024 by NOÉ ÁLVAREZ. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

NOÉ ÁLVAREZ is the author of Spirit Run (Catapult, 2020). He was born in the desert and raised in the weeds.

Accordion Eulogies
A Memoir of Music, Migration, and Mexico
978-1-64622-089-2
Searching, propulsive, and deeply spiritual, Accordion Eulogies is an odyssey to repair a severed family lineage, told through the surprising history of a musical instrument
Hardcover