Monday, August 17, 2009

"How migration transformed Martha’s Vineyard"

Readers may be interested in Daniela Gerson's excellent article in the Financial Times, "How migration transformed Martha's Vineyard". In it, Gerson descreibes how the tourist island of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, acquired a permanent population of which 20% was of Brazilian background, in a classic example of chain migration.

One December morning in 1986, a Brazilian immigrant named Lyndon Johnson Pereira strode down the ferry dock of Martha’s Vineyard, an island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. A job tip had lured the young man with shaggy brown hair and blue Converse sneakers to leave Boston, where he had been working as a dishwasher for a little over a year. But as he took in the deserted streets and weather-beaten buildings, he worried he had made a mistake. “The island appeared poor, badly maintained,” a now middle-aged Pereira recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do here?’”

With those unsteady steps Pereira would forge a link between his home town in the backwaters of Brazil and what was, contrary to appearances, the holiday retreat of many of America’s richest and most influential citizens. During that first winter he had a hard time believing anyone would choose to live there. Then the sun emerged, turning the steely ocean a brilliant blue. Fudge shops, fried-clam shacks and chic boutiques opened their doors. And boatloads of vacationers arrived hourly, filling the old whaling towns with summer revelry.

Pereira was in the thick of it, helping to start a new restaurant on prime real estate just off the same wharf where a young Teddy Kennedy swam ashore after his accident on the nearby island of Chappaquiddick almost two decades earlier. Soon, the Brazilian immigrant was making more money in his 100-hour working week than he could in a year at home.

Gerson sensitively explores the issue, covering everything from the mechanics of chain migration and the benefits to the community to the problems regarding the immigrants' integration and their popularity in the time of the credit crunch. Go, read.

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