Checkpoint Zipolite: Quarantine in a Small Place by Belen Fernandez is impossible to put down. Unlike some other travelogues or memoirs by women (pace Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Eat Pray Love), Belen Fernandez’s candor and self-deprecating humor combined with a deep love and compassion for people and places torn apart by political and social turmoil draws the [url=https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/09/a-uniquely-mexican-quarantine/]More[/url]
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A Uniquely Mexican QuarantineCheckpoint Zipolite: Quarantine in a Small Place
by Belen Fernandez is impossible to put down. Unlike some other travelogues or memoirs by women (pace Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Eat Pray Love
), Belen Fernandez’s candor and self-deprecating humor combined with a deep love and compassion for people and places torn apart by political and social turmoil draws the reader all over the world and yet, reminds one that the author is stuck, like all of us, due to an unforeseen global disaster: Covid-19 and pandemic quarantine. While Mexico was supposed to be quick stop for Fernandez on her way to Istanbul, “March 13-25 (2020) would turn into March 13 until further notice” (7). For this writer-traveler, the idea of being unable to move is a nightmare; Fernandez shares that she is constantly moving, between cities, nations, and continents. Unintentionally, she ends up in the only “official” clothing-optional beach in Mexico named Zipolite, “the beach of death,” known for being home to some of the deadliest waves in the world, and yet, apropos for someone who creates a life of “manic itinerancy” for herself. Zipolite embodies Fernandez’s desires for unpredictable movement, transformation, and beauty. Besides the dangers of the ocean, she deals with scorpions, iguanas, 7.4 magnitude earthquakes and impending tsunamis, and while she defies death by crushing wave, recovers from a bout of illness from typhoid, and lockdown in a tiny village in southern Mexico where a local officials erect a checkpoint in front of her temporary abode, Fernandez finds herself in “coronastalgia … which comprised anguished nostalgia for not only all of the things I already missed and the places I now couldn’t go but also for the present quarantined moment and, if possible, nostalgia itself” (70). Zipolite becomes home, a source of stability and comfort, and yet, the reader is consummately reminded that Fernandez is stuck; her choices and ability to pick up and dash off interrupted without any promises of ending.
For many of us during this pandemic, our own values, needs, and safety became glaringly apparent. Our entire human connections transformed to the point that some relationships ended while others emerged as responses to our needs. In essence, Covid-19 brings us face to face with our personal AS political lives and Fernandez interrogates the idea of the personal is political in Checkpoint Zipolite: Quarantine in a Small Place
. At once a witty, interrogative, and nostalgic memoir, the reader finds an astute and humane documentation of atrocious sites of injustice in impeccable journalistic fashion. Fernandez makes no secret of her disdain of the nation she spent her childhood in, but she also offers bold and righteously damning critiques of many nation-states, always championing the masses and the collective lamentation of freedoms denied all over the world. Her self-awareness about her privileges as a white woman who holds powerful documents that allow her to pursue her needs by leaving and arriving whenever and wherever she wants to grounds the reader in being less critical of her and more empathetic to oneself and by default, others. Fernandez shares that she always felt the need to leave; the desire for movement and a fast-paced life. While globe hopping, Fernandez takes the reader through Lebanon, Morocco, Minnesota/the United States, Palestine, and El Salvador. The checkpoint at her very front door in a small, coastal town meant to control the spread of Covid-19, checkpoints in Gaza, checkpoints at airports, and checkpoints of whiteness intertwine and meld to remind the reader that freedom for some means disaster for many.
The confinement of people she loves in places throughout the world who experience a lack of agency due to political oppression is a palpable concern in her story. Gaza and Lebanon, but also the United States, her place of birth and childhood, that is the most problematic for her and the one place to which she avoids returning. Fernandez learns of George Floyd’s lynching through the television of a Zipolite family giving her shelter during the aftermath of an earthquake and for readers around the world, we are immediately reminded that justice and peace are eternally elusive for the masses of people without racial, gender, sexual, economic, and other privileges. She never shies away from turning these critiques upon herself; and yet, the reader empathizes with her because in our own ways, we avoid the discomfort of lacking agency to do more for each other. As she says, a sentiment the reader can understand deeply because of quarantine, “there was no longer a surplus of people to throw me into ethical dilemmas” about personal choices of say, yoga clothed or nude, but the political became even more tantamount as Black and brown bodies piled higher and higher because of structural inequities throughout the world.
Fernandez’s arduous search for her favorite brand of mate, tender attachment to colorful buckets with multiple uses and purposes, and devastation at the departure of random strangers who become stable parts of her quarantined life remind us that we, too, were forced to slow down in our own small places. She repeatedly acknowledges the privileges of her status, but the loss of the life she created and longed for stand out as a reminder to us that we often have more than we need and can (and maybe should?) get by in this post-1492 world with less emphasis on material accumulation and standards of success as defined by whiteness, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. The reader shares Fernandez’s final musing that “plenty of movement [is] possible while standing still” (75), especially as circumstances beyond our control, such as a global pandemic, force us to contend with the strengths, weaknesses, chaos and calm, and political events that guide and affect our personal lives. For all the shifts in Fernandez’s life, she diligently creates routines, simple activities that ground her including her morning jogs, afternoon wine, and conversations about Zipolite community members and their fight for land rights. While politics often separate us, the human condition bridges the borders: Beirut, San Salvador, Minneapolis, and Zipolite. As Fernandez opines, “Checkpoints can also, then, be instrumental in maintaining sectarian geographies—and the confessionalization of space—by reminding the Other of his or her outsider-ness.”
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