Who are we?
Do you remember the Letter to the Editor from Craig Couture of Apple Valley, Minnesota? It appeared in the letters columns last week. Mr. Couture had met a few of us Vineyarders at a Florida tennis and golf resort. We made a great impression.
We titled the letter "Good review," and Mr. Couture began, "I am writing to tell the residents of Martha's Vineyard something you probably already know. You are warm and passionate people. Sure, it's easy when people come to visit and spend money in your beautiful town, but how about when you leave your friendly confines? I met two of your finest residents at the Saddlebrook resort in Tampa. Although I never did make out there names, I did find them to be very nice and as warm as the weather. Maybe it was because they were tennis players?"
No, we all said to ourselves as we read Mr. Couture's words, it's because we are warm, passionate, and nice. In fact, each week there are many examples in the letters columns, and of course, on the sidewalks and meeting rooms of daily life, where Islanders practice their generosity, warmth, and, well, niceness.
But this stimulating massage of self-esteem, to which we treat ourselves often and liberally, has not actually worked out all the kinks in the Island community. Not by a long shot, to judge by some of the 240-plus comments posted to mvtimes.com, beneath the story of the car crash that killed 20-year-old Brandy Marie Gibson. Indeed, what some of these posts reveal is that there is a significant body of opinion on the question of immigration, and particularly illegal immigration, that is resentful, passionate, not warm at all, and certainly not nice.
It is not surprising. A review of the unquestionably unscientific poll that is the online Reader Forum at mvtimes.com reveals that hot topics, in terms of viewers, have included Larry David's custody battle, the Monster Shark Tourney, racist Martha's Vineyard, Iraq/Iran, and county government. The latter topic attracted 12,517 visitors who either posted to the conversation or watched it. Our coverage of Island teens' participation in the MySpace social networking site yielded a similar, astonishingly large response. But, the runaway, high interest, debate on The Times' Reader Forum over the past two years has been immigration. Visitors and posters to that discussion totaled 85,261. Among the opinions offered by the participants in the immigration forum, hostility to the immigrants among us, chiefly Brazilians, has more than held its own against those who urge us to embrace immigrants, no matter their legal status.
The circumstances of Ms. Gibson's death have reminded many of our neighbors of their deeply held views that illegal immigration, as well as the national, state, and local dereliction in dealing with it, is pernicious. It is a significant strain of opinion in the Vineyard community, as well as elsewhere in the nation. To imagine that Islanders' warm embrace of illegal newcomers is uniformly complacent or helpful to these visitors is delusional. Similarly, to imagine that illegal aliens are not exploited, and that the nation's failure to address the problem is the fault of anyone other than we voters is to evade our responsibility.
Likewise, we are mistaken if we imagine that the most liberal among us are content to see the contrary, and often harshly formulated, views of their neighbors, reflected in the newspaper, in print or online. Although our view is that this newspaper should reflect as broadly and completely as possible the true nature of our community, including the parts we admire and those that make us uneasy, that's not necessarily the widely held view of our role. Without question, we Islanders are choosy as to whom and to what views we extend the Vineyard's celebrated warm embrace.