It started with a headline. Two young Islanders won the derby. That was something to celebrate. Then on the Gazette website conversation stirred. They weren’t really Islanders, one reader said. Wrong at least on one count, replied the grandmother of Sam Bell, age twenty five, born and raised on the Vineyard. Like his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before him.
Record corrected, at least for Sam. But the question lingered like the morning ground fog that cloaks the landscape these days. Who’s really an Islander?
By strict, longstanding colloquial definition an Islander is a person who was born here. Like Sam Bell. But what about a young woman who lives here and is drawn to the shore with a saltwater rod to cast into the deep and catch a big bass. Who becomes the first woman in derby history to win the boat as a grand prize. Like Jena-Lynn Beauregard, age twenty nine.
No doubt about Ricky Vanderhoop, age sixty, whose Wampanoag ancestry dates back for thousands of years and who was remembered in an Island-style funeral this week that included a noisy procession of hot rods around the West Basin in Aquinnah. That’s true native status.
Maybe being an Islander is really a matter of degrees, not definition. And sometimes interpretation. Take the editor who wrote that headline, for example. Been here forty years but not born here. Not an Islander. Her two children are a different story. Born in Oak Bluffs at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Islanders.
In a recent post on the website, one Gazette reader observed: “The first Islander was a native about 10,000 years ago. Courtesy of the glacier.”
The conversation continues.