I've been having an ongoing discussion with a friend about our community here in East Hampton and what exactly it means to be "local". I think we're unique in that we're such a diverse town, but not in that (like ever other community in the world) things have changed here in the past fifty years. But what really sets us apart is that we're one of those unique places in the world that have become havens for second-home-owners who need a retreat to escape their busy lives in the big city.
When I was young there were many vacation homes here and every summer the part-timers descended, along with the vacationers who came for a week or two and stayed in a local motel on the ocean. Our various segments of the community were pretty clear-cut: there were the "locals" who lived here all the time, the "summer colony" who spent their summers in beautiful big homes along the southern end of town, and the "summer people" who were the day-trippers and hotel/motel patrons.
Now things are much more complicated than that. We have many people who have retired out here - some become valued members of the community and others simply spend their days reading and staying to themselves, not wanting to invest in yet another place after the lives they lived elsewhere. Then there are the summer residents who own homes here and come, not only for the summer, but week-ends and holidays year 'round. With improved transportation this is pretty common. We also have people who have decided to live here but they work in NYC, which is something that was rare when I was young. However, with FAX machines and email, they're able to spend many days each week here, making use of the Hampton Jitney to go and come from Manhattan when they need to meet with editors or CEOs or office staff. And the "locals' no longer necessarily grew up here, but they've claimed it as their home and invested in the community in important ways. Its a complicated and interesting society here and I find it exciting to rub elbows with people I would never have had the opportunity to meet back in an earlier time. We are more pluralistic and less segmented than we had been, which is complicated but wonderful.
The term "local" means different things to different people. To me it means anyone who lives here year 'round and contributes to the community. I think I have more friends now that did not grow up here than those who did. They bring a wonderful richness to our lives and I'm grateful for that. Others would use the term "local" only to describe someone who grew up on the East End. I understand it but don't agree with it.
For all we've gained we've also lost and some of the sense of an ancestral home has been lost, not by me personally but by the community at large. Not many can look to the past and imagine their great-grandparents working the land or fishing the waters. Those of us that can are doubly blessed. Those that can't don't always have the same appreciation for where they are and the price that was paid for what we now enjoy.
As in all areas of life, it's variety that makes the world go 'round. And we have it in abundance here.