The son of working-class Mexican immigrants flees a life of labor in fruit-packing plants to run in a Native American marathon from Canada to Guatemala in this "stunning memoir that moves to the rhythm of feet, labor, and the many landscapes of the Americas" (Catriona Menzies-Pike, author of The Long Run).
Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez worked at an apple-packing plant alongside his mother, who “slouched over a conveyor belt of fruit, shoulder to shoulder with mothers conditioned to believe this was all they could do with their lives.” A university scholarship offered escape, but as a first-generation Latino college-goer, Álvarez struggled to fit in.
At nineteen, he learned about a Native American/First Nations movement called the Peace and Dignity Journeys, epic marathons meant to renew cultural connections across North America. He dropped out of school and joined a group of Dené, Secwépemc, Gitxsan, Dakelh, Apache, Tohono O’odham, Seri, Purépecha, and Maya runners, all fleeing difficult beginnings. Telling their stories alongside his own, Álvarez writes about a four-month-long journey from Canada to Guatemala that pushed him to his limits. He writes not only of overcoming hunger, thirst, and fear—dangers included stone-throwing motorists and a mountain lion—but also of asserting Indigenous and working-class humanity in a capitalist society where oil extraction, deforestation, and substance abuse wreck communities.
Running through mountains, deserts, and cities, and through the Mexican territory his parents left behind, Álvarez forges a new relationship with the land, and with the act of running, carrying with him the knowledge of his parents’ migration, and—against all odds in a society that exploits his body and rejects his spirit—the dream of a liberated future.
"This book is not like any other out there. You will see this country in a fresh way, and you might see aspects of your own soul. A beautiful run." —Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
"When the son of two Mexican immigrants hears about the Peace and Dignity Journeys—'epic marathons meant to renew cultural connections across North America'—he’s compelled enough to drop out of college and sign up for one. Spirit Run is Noé Álvarez’s account of the four months he spends trekking from Canada to Guatemala alongside Native Americans representing nine tribes, all of whom are seeking brighter futures through running, self-exploration, and renewed relationships with the land they’ve traversed." —Runner's World, Best New Running Books of 2020
"An anthem to the landscape that holds our identities and traumas, and its profound power to heal them." —Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Noé Álvarez’s honest portrait of the experiences of migrant families and first-generation Americans makes for one of the most inspirational reading experiences we’ve had in a while. Growing up in Washington as the son of two migrant workers from Mexico, Álvarez felt caught between two cultures, performing manual labor and also attending college on a full scholarship. But something clicked when he heard about the Peace and Dignity Journeys, an intercontinental run from Canada to Guatemala that’s intended to foster healing and connection for indigenous peoples. Álvarez chronicles his fascinating fellow runners as they form friendships during their epic 6,000-mile journey and reports on the Native American communities they pass through along the way. His eye-opening conversations force him—and us—to confront harsh truths about the challenges faced by indigenous peoples. Though the physical pain of this punishing trek is a constant presence—some passages made us physically ache even though we hadn’t left our chairs—this deeply empathetic book is a powerful, important, and inspiring document.
Yakima native lvarez debuts with a spellbinding narrative of his coming to terms with his place in America today. lvarez and his parents, undocumented Mexican immigrants, worked in a Washington apple-packing plant and lived in a neighborhood where the American Dream was replaced with what lvaraz describes as a Raymond Carver esque "world of loneliness, tarnished relationships, and violence." While his parents immigrated to give lvarez a better life, his father memorably tells him to "Never be like me. Like any of this. Get out while you can." Escape presents itself in the form of an acceptance letter to Whitman College, but he soon feels out of place there as a first-generation Latino student. After dropping out, he flies to British Columbia to join the Peace and Dignity Journeys, a group of about a dozen Native American/First Nations runners who have embarked on an epic, 6,000-mile trek from Alaska to Panama. Together, they sprint through lands that were stolen from their ancestors, encountering mountain lions, stone-throwing motorcyclists, and more danger and turbulence along the four-month slog. In electric prose, lvarez writes of returning home and forging a new connection with the land and its communities: "I grow excited at the thought of becoming reacquainted with my relatives that are the land and the trees." This literary tour de force beautifully combines outdoor adventure with a sharp take on immigration.