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Report from Martha's Vineyard: Vicki Riskin on Cruelty & Kindness Amid Venezuelan Migrant Crisis

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

I watched with astonishment the coverage of the Venezuelan men, women and children arriving, confused and bewildered, at the Martha’s Vineyard airport, not far from my home.

In a cynical act of cruelty, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis used these people to draw national attention to himself in his bid for the presidency, feeding on fears of immigrants. “Give me your tired, your poor…and ship them away.”

To boot, there weren’t enough Venezuelan asylum-seekers in Florida, so DeSantis scooped them up from Texas, using tax dollars of his state's citizens.

A bizarre and repugnant stunt if ever there was one. Never mind these people were fleeing a communist country, the communism he allegedly detests.

Perhaps to his surprise, however, the Vineyard community quickly rallied around these refugees to provide shelter, food, and love. It was a proud moment for the island.

When I checked with the church hosting them, I was told there was no need for more help or money or helping hands, so immediate and enormous was the outpouring.

The local high school hosted the kids for lunch to hear their stories. Local and state officials went to work immediately -- even our Republican Governor Charlie Baker -- to arrange for a longer stay for the group at an Air Force base on nearby Cape Cod while permanent arrangements could be made for them.

Immigration attorneys arrived, too, sorting through the individual stories. And DeSantis in his incomparable ignorance, was all puffed up that he struck a blow against the liberals,

I guess because Barack Obama lives here summers, he assumed that Vineyarders are all rich Democrats. Not so.

The year-round population is largely working class, fishermen, nurses, teachers, caretakers, farmers, painters, electricians, etc. Over 30 percent are Brazilian.

It's a beautiful place everyone cares for deeply, regardless of social status, such that the islanders have put 40 percent of the land into conservation.

Sadly, like many places around the country, the rental prices have risen so many working-class people are forced to move elsewhere. The community is working hard on the problem, but that's another story.

DeSantis cares little about all that.

He’s too busy getting ready for his mega-fundraiser on the more conservative, close by island of Nantucket. But there, too, the year-around population is mostly working-class folks who are invisible to the man from Miami.

I shudder when I think about the hate that drives DeSantis and Trump and the way they feed like vultures on people's fears.

I prefer the sense of mutual care and community on Martha’s Vineyard where right now it’s incredibly beautiful and quiet.

Writer Vicki Riskin lost her Montecito home in the 1/9 disaster and now lives on Martha's Vineyard most of the year, returning often to Santa Barbara. Her critically acclaimed biography of her parents, "Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir," ranks among the preeminent histories of Hollywood, and she now is publisher of BlueDotLiving, an award-winning magazine about the environment and sustainable living.

Lead image: Volunteers prepare food for immigrants outside St Andrews Episcopal church, in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard (Associated Press ).

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