The strings of the mariachi’s violins began to play the opening notes of “Amor Eterno,” and my arms were immediately covered in goosebumps. I began to cry. I tried to stifle my sobs with my hand, but there was no holding them back.
I looked around and saw my friend Priscilla was doing the same, and like a domino effect, the rest of our group began to well up with tears.
CREDIT: Here I am sobbing my eyes out to “Amor Eterno.” Photo credit: Shawna Ghafouri-Wehrley
A couple of years ago, eight of my girlfriends and I took a trip to Mexico City. While there was plenty of good times had, the highlight that has come to define that time is all of us drinking micheladas aboard a colorful trajinera in Xochimilco and crying to the mariachi playing “Amor Eterno.”
Over the years, that song has grown to signify something greater for many of us, providing a poignant soundtrack to our individual grief. For Priscilla, it’s her sister. For me, it’s my dad.
To say “Amor Eterno” holds a special place in my heart would be a gross understatement.
Written by arguably Mexico’s greatest composer, Juan Gabriel, the song is a first-person account of someone mourning the loss of a loved one who passed.
Como quisiera / que tu vivieras / que tus ojitos / jamas se hubieran / cerrado nunca / y estar mirandolos / Amor Eterno / Inolvidable
It was first released in 1984 by the legendary late singer Rocío Dúrcal on her album “Canta a Juan Gabriel Volumen 6,” a collection of her renditions of Gabriel songs. Gabriel himself would go on to perform it. The album and song became a massive hit, with the album being introduced into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.
While urban legend says the song is about Durcal’s son, who died in an accident in Acapulco, Gabriel wrote “Amor Eterno” in honor of his mother, who died in 1974. He received the news of her death while on tour in Acapulco, which is referenced in the song. El más triste recuerdo de Acapulco.
Dúrcal herself was not Mexican, but rather from Madrid. However, thanks in large part to her career-defining work with Gabriel, she has become one of Mexico’s biggest icons. Her remains are even divided between her home in Torrelodones, Spain, and Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico City. The song is perhaps the crowning achievement in their body of collaborative work and became a vital piece in Mexico’s cultural canon.
Because of this, “Amor Eterno” lives in my blood. It rattles my soul with its achingly beautiful strings, melancholy words, and the longing in Dúrcal’s voice. It’s there in every important moment, regardless of if it’s a joyous or tragic one.
CREDIT: Credit: Christina Henderson
Even so, the song has reached beyond Mexico’s borders. Last year, an all-woman Guajira Son band played the song for me and my friends in Havana. The singer even held her hand to her chest and said “Canción hermosa! Viva México!”
Just as its title suggests, the song speaks to love that is eternal, love that isn’t limited to the physical presence of the one you hold in your heart and continues after our bodies turn to dust. “Amor Eterno” holds this power for many, particularly those who have suffered a great loss.
Coming from a culture that reveres death and the spiritual world makes the song even more meaningful. We even have a holiday dedicated to honoring the dead and giving them a bridge to return to Earth for a single night to spend with their loved ones. We mourn our dead openly and emotionally, and this song encompasses that intrinsic part of the culture.
Durcal’s sweet voice drips of yearning, twisting your heart into a knot. Funerals and memorial services often include a playing of “Amor Eterno” for weeping families and friends, sometimes played by a live mariachi plucking their guitars in the middle of the cemetery amongst all the other lost loves.
Growing up in Tijuana, baby showers (pronounce beybee chow-werrss by mom and tías) and despedidas de soltera always included the father- or groom-to-be arriving with a mariachi to serenade his beloved with “Amor Eterno,” perhaps as a promise that his devotion will be undying. If they break up, and many in my family did, the song is there again to kick them in the gut, even in the middle of a party – something I’ve definitely witnessed.
Just as Gabriel wrote this song to honor his late mother, the song has become the way I honor my dad. When he passed away in 2009, we decided not to have a mariachi at his memorial service, nor play Rocio’s singular version of the song, knowing we wouldn’t be able to handle hearing it in the presence of his photo and the marble urn that now contained every trace of his physical being.
Since then, the song has been there to simultaneously upset and console us, with Rocio’s voice speaking all the things we wish we could say: Y aunque tengo tranquila mi conciencia / Yo sé que pude haber yo hecho más por ti.
Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, when we put Rocio Durcal on during dinner, everyone inevitably falls to pieces, our tears salting our mashed potatoes. This past year was the first time no one broke down thinking of our dad, which later sent me down a guilt spiral thinking we’ve started to forget about him. So I listened to “Amor Eterno” alone in my car and brought him back.
Listening to the song is almost masochistic, and after this last Christmas, I realized that I continue requesting it from any mariachi within a 10-foot radius because of the pain it inflicts.
In listening to “Amor Eterno,” I ensure the hurt returns, and in doing so, my dad’s memory is still alive. If it keeps hurting, he’ll never be all the way gone.
CREDIT: Credit: Armen Manukian
When I begin to think about hearing the song when my mom passes, well I can’t. I can’t think about it because it’s just too much to handle.
A few years back, I took another step in commemorating this song’s importance in my life, and ensuring my dad’s lasting memory. Covering a large portion of my upper right arm is a skeleton hand holding a glass of red wine, all surrounded by pink roses. Rosas Mexicanas, vino, and skeletons are all symbols of life and death in my culture. And beneath it, in swirly cursive, is the song’s title. Now it’s an even bigger part of me, and the constant reminder of all my amores eternos.