This follows on “X is for Xenophobia,” which followed on “I is for Islander.” The more I think about this A to Z Challenge, the more I realize that everything follows on everything else. Long live hyperlinks!
Year-round vs. summer is the big one, or at least the most obvious one. But PDQ it gets complicated. Plenty of summer visitors have become year-round residents. (I raise my hand here.)
Plenty of people who grew up here have moved away for economic, creative, or some other necessity. They may be summer visitors, but they’ve got roots and relatives here.
Then there’s the “islander” business. I know and have known a bunch of people whose island roots go back to the 18th and even the 17th century, which is as long as white people have been around here. Not infrequently, the island families who’ve been economically most successful have members who’ve spent much of their working lives off-island, earning off-island wages.
Many of those who never moved off-island spent much of their lives in the seafaring trades, which is to say they weren’t bodily on the island all that much — though their close kinfolk were. That makes a big difference.
Seafarers from Portugal, Cape Verde, and elsewhere passed through, settled, and put down roots. Islanders, without a doubt, though those of Portuguese descent were still occasionally made fun of when I arrived in the mid-1980s, and those whose skin was noticeably darker — well, you know how that works as well as I do.
Lately for a writing project I’ve been messing around in the Vineyard of the mid-1850s. It’s not hard to conclude that the islanders most likely to help fugitive slaves escape to freedom were those with darker skins — Wampanoags and those of African descent.
OK, so let’s assume for a moment that an islander has to have been born here. Someone who was born and grew up here in the 1950s will have very different memories from one who was born and grew up in the 1970s or 1990s. At some point we’ve got to reckon with what makes an islander an islander — that it’s not simply the fact of being born here but the experiences you had and the places you knew growing up.
I’ve noticed that the experiences of my island friends who were, like me, born and grew up in the 1950s and early ’60s were not unlike mine in many respects, even though I grew up west of Boston in a small town that was evolving into a suburb. Some things were different for sure, but others were very similar. So were the experiences of ’60s summer kids.
So lately, like within the last 10 years or so, I came up with the category “year-round summer people.” Year-round summer people live here year-round — they vote here and qualify for preferred rates on the ferry — but (like summer people) they think real life is happening somewhere else, often but not always wherever it was they came from. They never worked island jobs or moved twice a year. They generally spend a fair amount of time off-island. The ones I know are generally nice people.
“Year-round summer people” started off as a way to describe and understand something I was seeing, but over the years it’s become a handy way to dismiss perspectives that piss me off: “Oh, well, whaddya expect, he’s just a year-round summer person.” Quite a few of these year-round summer people have retired here, often after many years of summer visits. They have lots of time to spend and, commendably, they want to get involved in island life — but excess time, it seems, has some of the same negative effects as excess money. Year-round summer people are like kudzu and other invasive plants: whatever they touch, they take over.
I would certainly take umbrage if that image were applied to me, which probably explains why I don’t mention it to the year-round summer people I know.
At the same time — I do get how us/them thinking arises from these more-or-less innocent attempts to understand what’s going on, and it gives me caution.
I met the consequences of year-round-summer-people when I revisited coastal Oregon a few years back. The impact on the coast and coastal range was hideous. A pox on both their winter and summer houses! The road to hell…
The “year-round-summer-people” category covers a multitude of sins (and good intentions). Like you, I’ve pondered the categories of people on the Island. I love your last remark – “I do get how us/them thinking arises from these more-or-less innocent attempts to understand what’s going on.” Writers are always trying to understand what’s going on. I’ve loved this series! Sad to see the end in sight, but a nice body to refer back to. Thank you for this pleasure!
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Very good, Susanna.