By Carly Mitchell / New York City
(The author, a public-school teacher, is using a pseudonym for professional reasons)
For ten years or so, I have spent summers vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, the small island off the coast of Massachusetts that has become the subject of so much controversy over the past two weeks.
My aunt has a home on the island, and she generously hosts family get-togethers every summer. I am fortunate enough to consider Martha's Vineyard a second home of sorts. The island has blessed me with some of my favorite memories. Hot days and breezy nights spent on South Beach, countless bike rides along the jagged green coast, our family’s annual Jaws viewing (the 1975 movie was primarily filmed on Martha’s Vineyard), and of course my aunt’s famous Fourth of July party, which is always a wild time.
A few years ago, I worked as a server at a restaurant on the island (which has since shuttered its doors). The restaurant was in Oak Bluffs, one of the island’s six small towns. My colleagues were a mixture of folks from all different walks of life. A small percentage of the people I worked with were like me–“summer people”; others were island locals. And many of my co-workers were from countries in Eastern Europe such as the Czech Republic and Albania.
I was lucky enough to stay at my aunt’s for the duration of the summer. I had a car readily available to me and my own room to sleep in after the end of a long and tiring shift. But I was the exception. My friends who were locals were constantly moving, it seemed. Housing was (and is) scarce and expensive, and rental prices skyrocket in the summer.
I remember many conversations with stressed friends who were born and raised on the island (which is a point of pride), in which they explained the island’s housing crisis. Usually they lived with a bunch of roommates who also worked seasonal jobs. Often these houses were farther away from the places where they worked (it’s worth noting that island traffic in the summer is outrageous–the population goes from roughly 17,000 year-round residents to 200,000), and they were very expensive.
Angry migrants are suing Gov. DeSantis for having tricked them into flying to Martha's Vineyard
Many of my Eastern European friends had it worse. A few of them lived in cramped rooms in old houses, sleeping four to six per room on cots or bunk beds. They often did not have cars, so they would rely on the island’s hit-or-miss public buses or cabs.
Everyone I worked with had a love-hate relationship with the summer tourists, including myself. Yes, these were the people bringing in the money. We all needed the money. But there was an unspoken understanding between us seasonal workers (I now considered myself to be “one of them”) that the summer people were, well, different.
Having always been a summer person, I suddenly understood the island in a whole new light. Many of these locals had three months to make enough money as servers or bartenders, landscapers or cleaners, to last them the entire year.
I will never forget a conversation I had with a friend of mine, an island native whose mother owned a small landscaping business, who explained to me that some of his friends and family members actually went on food stamps in the winter. In an encounter this past winter, another friend of mine who is a local singing/ songwriting legend, lamented to me that she was facing some difficult times and was currently missing out on gigs because she didn’t have the gas money to get there.
So when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew a bunch of unsuspecting Venezuelan immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard two weeks ago in order to prove some sort of sadistic political point, I understood the difficult position in which island locals had been put as far as dealing with this humanitarian crisis.
An estimated 63 percent of the island’s homes belong to seasonal residents. So, Mr. DeSantis, does dropping off 50 immigrants on an island that cannot even house the people who live there year-round seem like a solution to the immigration problem? And Mr. Jesse Watters, when you proclaimed on Fox News that “The town has never been more mobilized than when they kicked out their new neighbors. You could say it brought the community together,” did you consider the facts? Or are you an ‘ignorance is bliss’ kind of person?
There is a serious economic divide on Martha’s Vineyard, and the housing crisis is dire. To assume that the entire population of those who call the island home is a group of wealthy elitists is so very wrong.
And so when the islanders welcomed the Venezuelan people with open arms, I felt so proud. St. Andrews, a small Episcopalian Church in the center of picturesque Edgartown, housed folks, while Edgartown Pizza and the (best) island coffee shop Mocha Motts made sure that bellies and cups were full. Islanders donated clothing (my aunt included) and volunteers worked to make sure that even though this was unexpected, the men, women and children who had been brought so uncaringly to the island would be comfortable.
That is the island way.
Carly Mitchell (a pseudonym) is a public-school teacher in Brooklyn N.Y. who loves to learn, to educate, and to expose the hypocrisy of New York City politicians.