Unexpected Visitors

You knew I was going to write something about what’s going on, right? Martha’s Vineyard hasn’t hit the national news this way since the first Clinton visit in 1993. As features editor for the Martha’s Vineyard Times I had a front-row seat for that one. My fury with the national media for their inability to see the Vineyard even while they were swarming all over it set me on the road to writing my so-far-only novel, The Mud of the Place. (Epigraph from Grace Paley: “If your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you better watch where your mouth is.”)

Before that, the Vineyard hit the media big-time with the making and release of Jaws in the mid-1970s, and when Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick and left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown in the back seat of his car in 1969.

This story is bigger than all of the above. Chappaquiddick took a life and cost Ted Kennedy whatever presidential ambitions he had, but Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s callous PR stunt is happening at the confluence of several national stories: immigration, the impending midterm elections, and the moral, ethical, and political backruptcy of the Republican Party. And it landed right here on Martha’s Vineyard with no advance warning, not to local officials or even, it seems, to Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican of the nearly extinct breed repudiated by the Trump-following MAGAs.

The story, whose details and consequences are still unfolding, is all over the media. Here’s a good summary as of Thursday afternoon from the Vineyard Gazette. The short version: Earlier this week in San Antonio a woman calling herself Perla recruited (polite word) migrants to board a plane north, where they were told they would find housing, jobs, assistance with immigration paperwork, and/or educational opportunities. Two chartered planes carrying a total of about 50 men, women, and children apparently flew to Florida then to Martha’s Vineyard, one via South Carolina and the other via North Carolina.

No one on Martha’s Vineyard was notified in advance. The passengers thought they were headed for Boston or New York until they were notified in mid-flight that their destimation was the Vineyard, which most of them had never heard of. They arrived at Martha’s Vineyard Airport around 3 p.m. Wedneaday afternoon. Along with them was a videographer who recorded their arrival for Fox “News.” From there they were transported in two vans to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). How this was arranged and by whom remains unclear. The travelers had already been given brochures about MVCS, along with unhelpful maps of the Vineyard.

At that point the word went out and the Vineyard mobilized to feed, shelter, and provide necessary resources to the migrants. The homeless shelter at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown was outfitted with enough cots and other supplies to house five times its usual 10-person capacity.

On Thursday afternoon the migrants moved to the Joint Base in Bourne, on the Cape, where there was more room and ready access to necessary legal, medical, and other resources.

The particular stunt was orchestrated by Florida governor Ron DeSantis. It seems the Florida legislature has appropriated $12 million for stunts like this: busing and now flying migrants to what he calls “sanctuary states.” (Earth to Ron: Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, though several years ago Vineyard town meetings did pass warrant articles directing law enforcement not to cooperate with ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in attempting to deport undocumented immigrants.)

For a summary of how the migrants were treated by DeSantis and Department of Homeland Security officials in Florida, check this out:

As always, the regional and national media misrepresent the Vineyard as a “wealthy enclave,” an “upscale community,” etc., etc., but this time the media’s obtuseness has been outweighed by the appallingly vile and ignorant comments in every media outlet I’ve checked that allows them, including the two Vineyard papers. I started to write “They get their facts wrong,” but closer to the truth would be “They don’t bother with facts. Facts get in the way of their preferred narrative.” One of the preferred narratives goes something like “See how you like it when the southern border comes to Massachusetts.” Another seems to be “The rich people on Martha’s Vineyard made a show of being nice to the illegals then kicked them off the island.”

It’s not clear at this point whether DeSantis and his ilk can be charged with any crimes. Fraud, trafficking, and kidnapping have all been suggested. You don’t need a criminal statute to recognize political opportunism and moral depravity when you see it, however.

You don’t have to be an historian to realize something like this has happened before, because a few news outlets have kindly recalled it to our attention. Exactly 60 years ago southern white segregationists orchestrated the so-called “reverse freedom rides,” tricking poor Black people into boarding buses bound for the Cape Cod summer home of then president John F. Kennedy. The racist tactics and the compassionate northern response are remarkably similar to what just happened on Martha’s Vineyard.

For now I’m working hard to focus on the positive: 50 migrants who have survived more hardships than most of us can imagine found respite here, and Martha’s Vineyard rose to the occasion and showed the world what hospitality looks like.


About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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4 Responses to Unexpected Visitors

  1. Sara Crafts says:

    Back in the day when I worked for the school system here on the Vineyard, I often started pleas for grants with a couple of paragraphs that alluded to us having the county with the lowest per capita income in Massachusetts. Sadly (or not) with all the “immigration” that took place from neighboring states during Covid, we may not be the lowest anymore. Great article, Susanna, summing it all up nicely. And kudos to all the folks who worked so hard to make our visitors feel welcome and did what they could for them. One might mention, also, that Ron had to “borow” the Venezuelans from his buddy Greg in Texas, as apparently Florida didn’t have any immigants who wanted to make the trip.


  2. Thanks for the insights.


  3. You might add that we, the year-round inhabitants of this Island are not the rich and famous — we are the servants and providers to the rich and famous. I believe our Islander incomes rank among the lowest of the Commonwealth.

    Liked by 1 person

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