A Curious Sense of Diversity: Martha’s Vineyard

When I used to think of the quintessential New England, I automatically thought of lobster rolls, ‘Hahvahd Yahd’, and Tom Brady. Now, I think of Martha’s Vineyard.

Martha’s Vineyard is the premier vacation hot spot for primarily white, Vineyard Vines wearing middle and upper class folks. At just a 40-minute ferry ride away from mainland, the Vineyard affords these people a classy getaway for relatively cheap – a round-trip totals to $17 (that’s if the BMW is left in the garage). Upon further research via the Washington Post, Oak Bluffs – the part of the island my friends and I were headed to – is known as the “Black Hamptons”, a mecca for the “Black Elite”. I would reserve my judgment for the trip.

Don’t let the cheap ferry price fool you. Everywhere else on the island might as well have had “tourist trap” tacked onto their doors.  A scoop of ice cream will set you back $5 (plus tax). A margarita, mixed sans tequila, will set you back even further at $13. A ten-minute taxi ride will cost you upwards of $30.

Naturally, we scoped out the free options.

Among our limited options, we stumbled upon the famous gingerbread cottages. Not to be confused with actual gingerbread houses, the neighborhood seemed to be simply one cottage duplicated many, many times. On closer look, each house had its own personality and distinctive characteristics. One was covered in an atrocious bubblegum pink while another was painted in soft purple. Yet another house was painted in contrasting navy and burgundy tones. Even more odd: the houses were named. From “The Millers” to “La Vie en Rose”, each name complimented the eclectic style in which the individual house was designed.

Upon leaving the neighborhood, I had the distinct feeling that I had just taken a turn around Whoville.

Or perhaps a ghost town. It was eerie to walk amongst the cottages. We did see the residents here and there, but for the most part, the houses stood empty. They seemed to be from another era. One thing that really stuck out was the conformity among the houses. Despite the range of colors, the cottages were all the same. It was a little disconcerting, frankly.

We eventually made our way across the island to a little lighthouse. My friends and I were dropped off in front of Harbor View Hotel. Here, I found my imagined stereotype come to life. Here were the upper middle class vacationers with varying degrees of tans. Here were the houses with impeccably cured lawns.

The rocky shores that greeted us as we first docked on the island were in direct contrast with this manicured picture. Families of all walks of life lounged around the shore in the former while in the latter, the people, proudly sporting their Vineyard Vines polos and caps, were the ones we jokingly scoffed at.

We made our way back to our original place in Oak Bluffs, a place we felt more comfortable in. Besides, the $5 entrance fee to the lighthouse barely taller than the hotel served as an effective barrier on the other side of the island.

People, from the rapid Spanish speaking family to the nuclear Indian family to the straight out of Fourth of July couple, crowded the nearby grass and sand. The mix of languages and people was fascinating, something I had not expected from a place called Martha’s Vineyard.

Bottom line: as we too lounged near the rocky shores of Oak Bluffs, it was clear to me that perhaps I was wrong in judging the Vineyard too soon. Yes, it definitely had my imagined stereotypes, but it also had a growing rich (and dare I say, diverse) culture. That’s how I’ve also come to see New England and so yes, for me, the quintessential New England is Martha’s Vineyard.