Change is slow, but it’s possible

To the Editor:

Immigration and a poor national and world economy are two crucial issues which affect people on‑Island, off‑Island and around the world, but here on a small Island the economic fight for too few jobs takes place in a small area where personal privacy is at a minimum.

I see the tensions between Brazilians and Islanders as a multicultural fight for a place in the sun by the working and middle classes who are not at all certain that their hard work will earn them a better life ahead.

Doug Cabral wrote a fine overview of laws which might ease these tensions but nowhere in the letters that followed or comments I viewed on the net did a discussion of ethics and attitudes between the groups come up for much copy. Laws do not prevent and save us from prejudice, and prejudice is the present ill will circulating on the Island.

Granted, our government under Bush and Obama have been negligent in providing laws which might help solve these problems. Our Constitution was formed to make an ordinary citizen’s life better and to protect us. I no longer believe that most of our elected officials follow this line of reasoning, and I don’t absolve them of their abandonment of the people who elect them.

In the matter of immigration, many who would make worthy citizens are left to beg to get in and others get in who are unworthy. That is why (aside from my strong dislike of our present national government) I do not support a pan‑immigration bill for all illegals now in the country. People differ as individuals in the human race, not as mass groups. We have to have some kind of selection made to bar criminals and terrorists and psychotics from entering the U.S. That is only common sense.

It is also common sense to realize that Brazilians and Islanders are members of the same human race and have more than a little in common. Both groups are uneasy on our Island, and both share many common tensions. For one, it is not pleasant to live furtively and in fear unless one is well on the road to full citizenship. And for the other, it is not pleasant to fear moving off an Island that one loves because there is little or no work. The article in the MV Times of July 4 underscored the long and expensive road to become a voting citizen. It is also a long and expensive road to stay on MV without a good job. Since the lack of sound immigration laws and the poor world economy has put the two MV groups in a spot together, I think the two groups should stop fighting and abandon our present backbiting. Give raw, unprofitable prejudice a rest in favor of common sense.

As an Island we have known prejudice before and overcome it, if I’m not wrong. I believe that Oak Bluffs is historically cited as the first peacefully integrated racial community in the U.S. In the early 1900s, Irish were hated in Massachusetts. My Scotch‑Canadian Grandma came down to Boston and then to MV to marry. Her red hair and blue eyes often identified her as Irish, and once she had stones thrown at her in Cambridge.

Within my family her husband forbade her to attend the Catholic Church with their children. She dropped the Mary from her name. In turn, though, as I was growing up in Tisbury, she warned me against marrying Portuguese from the Azores (black blood might show up) and this was a common alert to all nice Island girls.

In college at McGill in Montreal, I was amazed to find the bitterness between French and English, but a bi‑culture Quebec thrives. In Chicago, I helped desegregate restaurants and had my first hospitalization in the black section of the hospital because I “was a student and didn’t mind.” For many civic issues I left my children and traveled all night on buses, was gassed by Nixon’s troops coming across the Washington Monument ground, demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, worked to get South Boston black children bused to Hingham and Cohasset for a good education, a program that exists today. We had an epitaph painted in black on my house in Cohasset, citing the minority group I had married into. Prejudice and hate are truly ugly. In the 80s I traveled across Connecticut for “Women’s, Women’s Worth” a task force for the American Association of University Women, still raising a family.

To both groups fighting for a place in the world at present on MV, I can state that change does come but often it’s very slow. Prejudice never works to change social conditions in a good way. All registered citizens, Islanders, and others should bombard their state and national legislators with calls and letters and demonstrations to pay attention to our immigration situation. And to the Brazilian people who hope to become our new citizens: Please try to understand the ethics and culture of this small Island and be respectful of our traditions. Be glad that you are here. We are mostly nice people.

Roberta Mendlovitz

Vineyard Haven