Finding Your Accordion Amongst Differences

Find Your Accordion

by Heather Bock

Ancestry has long intrigued me. I haven’t had the time to do an extensive search into my family’s background, but I do know my heritage is split between English, Irish, German, and French. In other words, I’m as white as can be. My last name by marriage is Bock, and the roots behind it are primarily German (although there is a good dose of Italian in there, too).

I teach an adult English as a Second Language class, which is entirely populated by students from Mexico. I don’t know their heritage, if some have Spanish roots or Native South American roots, but most of them have darker skin than I have.

The culture of a great part of my ancestry is notorious for being as cool and reserved as the climate from which it sprang. It isn’t rare for this type of culture to slowly inch away from a more demonstrative type of culture in order to protect their personal space bubble. The Mexican culture is famous for its warmth. I have had students hug me within a week of meeting me. I have a sweet Mexican friend who kisses me on the cheek every time she sees me.

On the surface, we’re pretty different, right? People who are so different can’t really be friends, can they? However, a little music history causes me to pause.

As I’ve had more Mexican students, I’ve repeatedly heard a certain type of Mexican music called norteño. This style, popular in Texas and northern Mexico, consists of the bajo sexto, which is a 12 stringed instrument similar to a guitar, the saxophone, drums, and the accordion, with the bajo sexto and accordion being the two most common (source here). I’ve heard this style of music so many times for so much of my life that I never stopped to think about it. It’s extremely traditional Mexican music. But wait. Accordion?? Isn’t that a traditional German instrument? How did that happen?

I did a little research and found that norteño music is related to what my kids and I are studying in history this week: the unification of Germanic states into the one country of Germany. Ready for a little Texas history? In 1842, 21 German noblemen gathered 6,000 German immigrants to make a new life in America, settling in Texas, as large land grants were available. This was during the time when Texas was its own country. More followed, some political refugees from some failed attempts at establishing Germany and some seeking a better life after major crop failures in their homeland. A little less than 1 million Germans entered the United States during this time (as Texas became a state in 1845), and many made their way to Texas. Some of these Germans migrated farther south into Mexico (sources here, here, and here).

As they settled, they brought their work ethic, their style of building, and their upbeat music, including, yes, the accordion. The Mexicans who lived in the new state of Texas and those in the north of Mexico started to like this new instrument. They started experimenting with it and pairing it with their own instruments. It wasn’t long before norteño music (translated, music of the north) was born, music that has been around ever since–I just heard it tonight being blared from a car driven through the neighborhood where I work. I heard the accordion.

Two very different cultures came together and adopted something they liked about the other culture, made it their own. Separate in so many ways, they found something in common.

My church has a Spanish-speaking congregation that meets on the same campus and at the same time that the English-speaking congregation that I attend meets. We see each other in the lobby after the service, but most of the time, sadly, their congregation stays on their side of the lobby, and we stay on ours. Our kids share childcare, so some of them are starting to mix, but the adults are firmly separate, even though a lot of them do speak English.

What if we can find our accordion, though? What if we can find something in common to bring us together? Don’t we both love Jesus?

Greg and I for several Sundays now have decided to attend the Spanish-speaking church and have been working on our (very lacking) Spanish language skills. We don the headphones enabling translation, murmur “buenos dias” while giving handshakes during greeting time, and attempt to read along during the congregation responses. For the past two Sundays, our church has held the first mixed events–prayer meetings prayed in both English and Spanish, and I delighted in praying alongside of them. Next week, we’ll be bringing a meal to add to the comida compartido (community potluck) and sit amongst families with a very different culture from ours in order to find that accordion.

My city is deeply divided along racial lines–I’ve seen the population race maps–and I know my city is not unique. I’m excited to be a start in the blurring of those lines, in reaching out with a hug and a smile to those who haven’t always had much of a welcome from those who look like me.

What divisions do you encounter regularly? Racial ones? Political? Religious? How can you show the love of Christ to those different from you? Won’t you reach out, too, and find an accordion?

“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall”

Ephesians 2:13-14

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12 thoughts on “Finding Your Accordion Amongst Differences

    1. Thanks–I go to the Spanish and English prayer time before church, too, and the comida compartida (potluck) but I still don’t know any names besides my pastor’s and his wife’s! I think it’s going to be a long journey. That’s ok!

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  1. The accordion: I had no idea! And what a great symbol of crossing cultural barriers. Kudos for making the effort on your side instead of waiting for others to come to you. This was informative and challenging.

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    1. Thanks–the accordion surprised me, too! As for making the effort, I’ve been told it’s easier for those from the dominant culture to make overtures than for the minorities, especially if some of the majority has treated the minority badly, which is the case in my city.

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  2. Heather, your post is so timely with the division in our country (religious, political, racial, etc.). I love learning about the accordion and some history—but your heart to look for similarities rather than differences is what I love the most. AMEN!
    This is my favorite post from you … .so far!

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