Martha’s Vineyard, Political Symbol – An Essay

CAPE COD — This time the spotlight was on this region because the Governor of Florida used his state’s money to airlift migrant asylum seekers from Venezuela, who were in Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard . It’s as weird as it sounds.

“Literally, none of this makes sense,” said state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and parts of the Upper Cape. “The only reason it was done was so [Florida Governor] Ron Desantis could use this as a political stunt to get more media attention.

It worked. Martha’s Vineyard is now part of the national conversation. And in some right-wing circles, the words “Martha’s Vineyard” have come to represent, as a banner flying over the island on September 19 declared, a place full of “Vineyard Hypocrites!”

“Desantis and his cronies have exploited the notoriety of this area,” said State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. Cyr represents Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and much of Cape Cod. “And it’s not lost on me that last month Desantis ‘parachuted’ into my district and held a five thousand dollar per plate fundraiser on Nantucket.”

State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro)
CAPE COD WAVE PHOTO

It has been truly fascinating to watch in real time events that have happened locally being interpreted nationally – especially through what is a distorted MAGA lens.

Although Cape Cod Wave does not cover Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod is represented by Cyr and Fernandes, who also represent the island. So I contacted them for their opinion.

When 48 migrants were dropped off unannounced at Martha’s Vineyard airport on September 14, islanders rallied to provide shelter, food and aid. The migrants were housed and fed at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown. They have since been brought, with state assistance, to Joint Base Cape Cod for temporary shelter.

But a different narrative has emerged in right-wing memes and media that say liberal hypocrites have called in the National Guard to evict the migrants from the island. It’s been a topic of discussion on FOX News, including a racist rant full of sarcasm from Tucker Carlson. Breitbart News suggested that Martha’s Vineyard could and should accommodate 6 million new immigrants.

On the other hand, memes and liberal media praise the island’s compassionate response. One meme simply said, “In a world full of Florida, be Massachusetts.”


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VagueA famous place and day-to-day reality

A spotlight is nothing new in this part of the country. Cape Cod and the islands have long had a notoriety that goes far beyond the area’s natural beauty.

“A former City Manager of Provincetown once said that Provincetown would be in the national news once or twice a year and you can never predict how,” Cyr said.

Hyannisport, of course, is home to the Kennedy Complex and was the location of President John F. Kennedy’s “Summer White House”. President Joe Biden, while serving as Vice President and Senator, spent many Thanksgivings in Nantucket, and he spent Thanksgiving 2021, as President, in Nantucket.

“A lot of people on media vacation here,” Cyr said. “Every summer there’s an article about one of our local restaurants in the New York Times.”

And then there’s Martha’s Vineyard. Two presidents – Bill Clinton and later Barack Obama, vacationed on the island while in office. Obama has since purchased a home on the island. Movie and celebrity connections abound. “Jaws” was filmed there. Stars from various media live on Martha’s Vineyard. John Belushi is buried there.

Martha’s Vineyard is, like this entire region, a summer vacation paradise dotted with multi-million dollar homes. Of course, there’s also the other side of the island – the side that Tucker Carlson and his ilk don’t recognize.

“When you make your life on Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket or Cape Cod, you know it’s always been a place that has some level of notoriety,” Cyr said. “We often struggle to convey that the lived experiences of Islanders or Cape Codders are different from perception.”

“Our region was stereotyped long before this happened,” Fernandes said. “People painting an inaccurate picture of Cape Town and the islands, there’s nothing new about that. But it doesn’t match reality. It’s not factually accurate.

“That point was accentuated with this specific targeting of Martha’s Vineyard,” Cyr said.

The reality on Martha’s Vineyard, Cyr says, is that “the median income is $43,000. And for one in four Martha’s Vineyard students, their the first language is not English. It is therefore much more diverse both in terms of composition and economy than what is described.

Dylan Fernandes

State Representative Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth CAPE COD WAVE PHOTO

“Vineyard’s population has increased 30% since the last census,” Fernandes said, “and the vast majority of them are from new immigration.” Most of the vineyard’s immigrants, he said, are Brazilian. And Nantucket has a growing immigrant population, mostly from Central America, he said.

“Our year-round population here is largely working-class people,” Fernandes said. “A lot of people work in the service industry and the tourism industry, and health care… Most people claw and scratch in the seasonal economy.”

VagueWhen the plane arrived from Texas

“Let’s be honest,” Cyr said. “It was a cruel trick that manipulated the asylum seekers…. They literally used words like they felt like they were kidnapped.

“When they landed on Martha’s Vineyard,” Fernandes said, “not a single one of them knew they were going to Martha’s Vineyard or even what Martha’s Vineyard was. They were looking on their phones to see where they were. .

“It comes off as a rather manipulative sad stunt,” Cyr said. “A $600,000 political stunt. It wasn’t about helping people. The way you do this is with coordination.

“Listen, I clearly see how dysfunctional our immigration system is. And the blame story is shared by Democrats and Republicans alike,” Cyr said. He acknowledged, “Massachusetts could probably play a bigger role. There are only a handful of border states, and also a handful of non-border states that intervene.

But, he said, there is a better way than simply dropping people off at a small island unannounced. “The goal here was to grab a title,” Cyr said.

As for the response of the island community, Cyr said: “I don’t really know how a small community could have reacted better. They set up a shelter within hours.

“The island really rallied and would have continued to rally,” Cyr said. The move to Joint Base Cape Cod was “prompted by state officials who said it would not be sustainable.”

In fact, Cyr said, Joint Base Cape Cod has always been used as a safe haven to help those in need, including people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Fernandes said, “A lot of right-wing politicians lie about what happened. They weren’t chased off the island. They left to go to a better configuration. It is more dignified and humanitarian and greater.

“Now everyone has their own room and has access to more services. If people want to call it hypocrisy, I don’t give a fuck. At the end of the day, it’s about helping people,” Fernandes said.

“We are not a place that cares about doing things just for political reasons. These are people’s lives for us rather than a political game as they clearly are for these Republican governors.

Leaving the island “was totally voluntary, just like they can leave the current facility where they are now,” Fernandes said.

In fact, two out of 48 have already gone to New York to stay with relatives, he said. Others are figuring out their next steps by working with housing organizations and a large team of immigration lawyers, he said.

“Some will probably live in Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Town,” Cyr said.

“They are incredibly grateful,” Fernandes said. “They are very happy to be where they are now. But they went through a lot of trauma to get to this point. It was completely unnecessary and it was entirely made on purpose.


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