This is the admirable America I know exists — the humane one many of us love with all our hearts.
A year after Gov. Ron DeSantis plucked two groups of migrants from Texas and — using Florida taxpayers’ money — flew them to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses, his evil scheme to dump them on liberals without any aid has been, once again, met with extraordinary kindness.
Score another win for the forces of good, which would not leave penniless women, two children and young men lost and bewildered.
The volunteers on the island who fed, sheltered, and helped resettle the 49 migrants — most of them Venezuelan — brought them back to Martha’s Vineyard last weekend, this time, to celebrate.
They invited every single one of the migrants, now scattered around the country and starting lives anew, to return to St. Andrew’s Church on Sept. 9, for a joyful first-year reunion.
It was a gesture, motivated by the desire to do more good, to make them again feel welcome against the backdrop of a national epidemic of anti-immigrant hate. Not all could come, but the 36 who did step away from jobs and obligations showed joy and gratitude to their hosts and benefactors.
How beautiful is that?
The generous Vineyard community raised money to host the asylum seekers, with cases still pending, inviting them to bring guests, and they paid their way, their stay and activities, including group gatherings and trips to the beach.
The black-and-white pictures and story in The Vineyard Gazette show quite an emotional bash.
Last weekend’s events were largely kept under wraps. If asked, attendees donning name tags and color-coded wristbands were told to say they were gathering for a family reunion. It was, in some ways, true.https://t.co/vrT8TKyj4m
— Vineyard Gazette (@vineyardgazette) September 12, 2023
Making a difference
The refugees’ smiles, hugs and thumbs-up are an antidote to the anti-immigrant rhetoric poisoning Americans: The spirit of Lady Liberty redeemed. The humane character Americans were known for. Is it making a comeback?
One can hope.
Perhaps the goodwill never actually went away, just sat out one misguided presidential election and two gubernatorial races in Florida, once also a sanctuary.
The Vineyard volunteers didn’t have to do any of this. They had already made a huge difference in these people’s lives when they initially arrived.
DeSantis pulled this publicity stunt to position himself as the most immigrant-loathing of them all in the GOP race for the White House — putting at risk immigration hearings and location check-ins. They could have missed appointments and court dates and ended up in legal trouble from where there’s no coming back.
But the Vineyard souls — plus, the national outrage generated by Democrats over DeSantis’ cruelty — facilitated immigration lawyers, and another story began to be written. Charity toward fellow humans replaced Republicans’ vilification of people fleeing circumstances so dire most Americans cannot imagine them.
What DeSantis, bragging father of three, did — leaving confused kids and their parents without food or shelter on a street corner for political thrills — was inhumane. He, it’s to be hoped, never become president, as he has shown how low he’s willing to stoop for personal ambition.
The Vineyard residents’ generosity of spirit leaves the governor with a fresh dose of eggs on his face — a bonus to the happy news of the reunion.
Certainly, the Massachusetts island, playground for the rich and famous, didn’t reconnect with the migrants for publicity.
They kept their plans private, allowing only one local reporter and a photographer to chronicle the moments of friendship, joy and fraternity. And, as the hosts requested, the Gazette agreed to hold off publishing the story until Tuesday, after the immigrants had a chance to return home.
“We wanted this to be a sacred time,” organizer Lisa Belcastro told the Gazette.
Blessed be the protectors, even when they make my reporting job harder.
And Belcastro, a homeless-shelter coordinator, whom the right-wing media took out of context to show liberals don’t want immigrants either, is exceptional.
A year ago, she cried when she told the media gathered around her about the “trauma” the migrants had endured. “Some of them have gone through really horrific things,” she said, breaking down for a moment, then picking up their defense.
“It’s step by step, folks,” she said.
And here she is, offering another step up — and still protecting them.
Community comes together
I only found out about the celebration because a watchful reader, Helena Poleo, sent me the link to the story.
“This is what happens when a community comes together,” Caracas-born Poleo wrote to me. She’s a Miami political consultant and media professional, a former journalist and an immigrant-rights advocate.
Her words took me back to pre-Trump times when Miami was that kind of community that, indeed, came together for immigrants.
When we flocked in 1980 to a Coral Gables woman’s house to clothe, house and feed a group of unaccompanied teenagers who had arrived on the Mariel boatlift and she had taken in.
When we sent our best ambassadors — salsa queen Celia Cruz and king Willy Chirino — to the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Base refugee camps to raise the spirits of Cuban refugees who lingered there for months.
Chirino not only sang, bringing the sun-burnt balseros to tears, but he advocated for their acceptance and release to Miami.
Martha’s Vineyard reminds us: It is inconceivable that too many Miamians fail to condemn DeSantis for his cruelty to the Venezuelan migrants he used and abused.
It should’ve been us throwing the Venezuelan refugees a party.