Since 50 Venezuelan migrants landed on Martha’s Vineyard in a plane chartered by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and later left for Joint Base Cape Cod, the Island has wondered where they’ve gone, and what’s next for them.
According to Larkin Stallings, a Martha’s Vineyard Community Services board member and Vineyard business owner who is one of many who stepped up as a volunteer, most of those folks are still at the base, and some are hoping to eventually relocate to the Vineyard.
Stallings told The Times that he and his wife Jackie visited with the Venezuelan migrants at the base on Sept. 21, and later enjoyed time on the Vineyard with four of those folks on Sunday.
“There was an extremely warm welcome when we got to the JBCC,” Stallings said. The general consensus from all he spoke with was “they were so appreciative of the Vineyard — really enjoyed their time with us, and all of them look forward to coming back to visit soon.”
Stallings said the migrants had good accommodations and food provided to them at Joint Base Cape Cod, with their own rooms — something that couldn’t be provided for them at St. Andrew’s.
Stallings said some of them “absolutely” want to make the Vineyard their home. “There’s a handful of them who would really like to relocate,” he said. The desire is tempered with the reality of the lack of housing, but also that there’s ample work, he said. He also said they are coming to grips with the notions of cold weather and snow.
“Some may opt for easier places to live and work, like, say, Boston where public transportation is easier, or the suburbs of Boston, et cetera,” he said.
Stallings said the four folks who came over from the base are family members. After they called from a ferry, he picked them up at the Steamship Authority terminal in Oak Bluffs and enjoyed dinner with them at his home along with his wife. Later they all went to church, he said. “It was great to see them,” he said. “A lot of hugging and crying.”
Edgartown attorney Rachel Self, who along with a team of lawyers has been assisting the migrants, said, “We are proud to announce that everyone has pro bono representation.” Self said to her knowledge, only two or three have departed so far. She also said folks have come forward from across the country with offers of transportation and lodging.
Self said she is “actively involved” in the criminal probe underway in Texas. Self limited her remarks on the subject to, “The investigation remains ongoing.”
The migrant’s plight has seen heavy press coverage. That coverage has largely referred to the Vineyard as a realm of affluence. Some outlets also claimed the Vineyard lacked diversity.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, criticized those portrayals as inaccurate. Cyr told The Times he and his colleague, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes D-Falmouth, make it a point when speaking with national press to point out the Vineyard’s median income is $40,000 per year. Also, Cyr said, “how one in four students in Martha’s Vineyard Schools speaks a language other than English at home, how one in four students are students of color — many of them the children of immigrants.”
Cyr also said he tried to convey how half of Islanders make their living through hospitality or trades work. Like Nantucket and Cape Cod, the Vineyard has a reputation based on “who visits,” like presidents, he said.
Cyr said the stigma of poshness can be found at the state level too. “I’m always pointing out to my colleagues the hurdles of what it means to make a life on an island, or at Lands End — you know, whether it be access to medical care, whether it be access to public services, whether it be the ups and downs of our cyclical economy.”
Cyr went on to say, “It’s an uphill battle based on perceptions and an agenda, and clearly Martha’s Vineyard was targeted in this political stunt because the perpetrators knew it would get maximum attention. I think they clearly failed. I think part of the aim of the stunt was to just show the hypocrisy of liberal people, coastal people in Massachusetts. I think that clearly failed. The response was rather remarkable … but unsurprising to me or anybody who knew this region well.”
Stallings described the media’s descriptions of the Vineyard as both “funny and sad.” He said, “To quote Ted Lasso, ‘They lacked curiosity.’ You know, if they took one minute to simply look — Google it. This is an insanely diverse population.”
Stallings said the portrayal of the Island and “who the people on the ground doing the work [are]” was off target. All those volunteers, he said, have other jobs.
“The fact that they think that we’re elite and rich and stuff like that, I mean, that’s hilarious,” he said. “That fact that they’re not curious enough to actually look — that they would rather paint us with one broad brush based on some of our summer residents, that’s just silly. That would be like me saying of Florida because I see one funny article about a ‘Florida man’ — that I would paint Florida with the entire brush of a funny article I read about a Florida man. That’s silly. Florida, like [here], is far more interesting and diverse than one swath of Floridians.”